The Lead

Citing emergency powers, Wolf admin skirts public bidding requirements to award $11.5M consulting contract 

By: - February 25, 2021 5:15 pm

Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam speaks at a press conference. Harrisburg, PA – February 17, 2021

Pennsylvania’s top health official on Thursday defended awarding a lucrative contract to consultants to aid in the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, saying that officials urgently needed expert help to improve their logistics and data management. 

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam told members of the House Appropriations Committee that her agency recommended to the Wolf administration that it use emergency procurement powers to hire the Boston Consulting Group, a Massachusetts-based management consulting firm. 

“The need for this intervention was so urgent,” Beam said, describing her reaction when she took the helm of the Department of Health last month. “I can’t say enough how urgently we needed resources on board … to put controls in place [and] make improvements on our vaccine allocation strategy.”  

Her comments came in response to questions from Rep. Dave Zimmerman, R-Lancaster, who said the $11.5 million contract first reported by PennLive “seems a little excessive.”

Beam confirmed on Thursday that the contract was not subject to the state’s public bidding process, which allows vendors to submit proposals and compete to offer the best rate for their services. 

Pennsylvania’s emergency declaration law allows agencies to skirt certain procurement laws to award public contracts in a time of crisis. Last summer, for instance, the Wolf administration said it “moved faster than ordinary times” to partner with a medical manufacturing firm to develop rapid COVID-19 testing technology. 

Beam said the Boston Consulting Group is “uniquely situated” to help Pennsylvania because it’s been hired to improve vaccine programs in other states. 

“It has a lot of states as clients, so we can learn from them and bring in best practices,” Beam said. 

She said the firm would primarily work on improving Pennsylvania’s data-sharing with the federal government. They would also help the state improve predictability for its vaccine providers, and balance concerns about efficiency and equity when deciding how to distribute the state’s scarce supply of doses.

Representatives from the Boston Consulting Group are present when the state’s joint vaccine task force convenes for twice-weekly meetings, members told the Capital-Star this week. 

Task force member Rep. Bridget Kosierowski, D-Lackawanna, said the consultants have been helpful and accessible, and believes they will help the state distribute vaccines more efficiently. 

But the real improvement in vaccine allocation, she said, won’t come until manufacturers ramp up production of doses. She’s optimistic that will happen soon – and that Pennsylvanians will then have a much easier time getting inoculations. 

“I do truly believe the vaccine supply will increase, and that is our main problem right now,” Kosierowski said. “You can bring any consulting group in the world, but unless they can make more vaccine[s] … they can’t address [our] biggest limiting factor.”

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.