Panel picks procurement adviser

Legislators favor hiring California firm to help review rules

A legislative panel on Wednesday decided to hire a California-based consultant to help lawmakers review the state's procurement laws and regulations under which agencies contract with vendors.

The consultant also would assist lawmakers in recommending changes to consider in the 2019 regular legislative session.

The Legislative Council's Review Subcommittee chose Ikaso Consulting LLC of San Bruno, Calif., to be the panel's procurement consultant over Public Consulting Group of Boston and Public Works LLC of West Chester, Pa. The latter planned to use InVeritas of Little Rock as a subcontractor.

After interviewing representatives of the three firms, the subcommittee, without discussion, had members rank the companies by first, second and third choice on paper ballots. The 14 subcommittee members attending Wednesday's meeting each voted for Ikaso Consulting as their first choice.

Ikaso Consulting's maximum bid was $336,800, while Public Consulting Group's maximum bid was $248,465 and Public Works' maximum bid was $298,125, according to the Bureau of Legislative Research.

A subcommittee co-chairman, Sen. Scott Flippo, R-Mountain Home, said he was impressed by Ikaso Consulting's well-prepared presentation, and he feels "like they are in a good position to give us some great advice and talk about their experiences and what they have learned."

"My colleagues in the House and Senate found themselves in agreement with that assessment," he said in an interview after the meeting.

The subcommittee's review comes in the wake of skirmishing between some lawmakers and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's administration over various state contracts.

Asked why the subcommittee needs to hire a consultant rather than rely on the Bureau of Legislative Research staff and information available through the National Conference of Sate Legislatures, Flippo said the consulting firm will do more than listen to lawmakers and the executive branch about changes that they favor.

"They are also going to tell us things that we don't know. That's an important part of this whole process," he said. "I will be very surprised if nothing new comes out of this process, and I will be disappointed."

Officials for Ikaso Consulting told lawmakers that their staff has worked together for about a decade, has about 130 years of public-sector procurement experience and has completed projects in 18 states regarding the procurement of items ranging from health services to toilet paper.

In 2011, the firm started work for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, to merge two separate procurement agencies into one. The project has been successful with the state winning the top prize in 2015 and 2016 from the National Association of State Procurement Officials, said Tom Arnold, director of Ikaso Consulting.

The firm will interview vendors and Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration officials, and make recommendations based on the Review Subcommittee's guidance, said Ikaso officials.

"We are not going to make everyone happy," said Reiko Osaki, president and chief executive officer for Ikaso. There may be "a culture" of losing vendors filing protests over contract awards in Arkansas; requiring protesting vendors to post bonds could help deter frivolous protests, she said.

Officials for Public Consulting Group cited its work for Detroit.

Eric Schnurer, president of Public Works LLC, said the firm has conducted similar projects in a majority of states. The firm also was hired by the Arkansas Legislature 13 years ago to review the state Department of Health, which retained the firm to help implement its recommendations.

Tim Leathers is vice president of consulting for InVeritas, the proposed subcontractor for Public Works. He is a former deputy director of the Department of Finance and Administration.

Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, asked whether Leather's state experience would be conducive to providing objective outside advice.

"I think everybody here can tell you that the way that I was able to survive among seven governors ... was knowing that I am responsible to the person that I work for and that's part of my being able to participate here," Leathers said. "I would be working for you, and that's where my loyalties would be, with this committee without any preconceived biases."

Last week, the subcommittee decided that bids submitted by five other companies were nonresponsive.

One of the firms, Calyptus Consulting Group of Cambridge, Mass., filed a protest of the decision in a letter dated Monday to Bureau of Legislative Research Director Marty Garrity.

Another firm, Civic Initiatives of Austin, Texas, asked lawmakers in an undated letter to reconsider their decision, saying that "the basis to eliminate over half the field was a correctable technical oversight." The subcommittee didn't discuss either letter Wednesday.

The Legislative Council on Friday will consider granting authority to the Bureau of Legislative Research to award the contract to Ikaso, and the council's executive subcommittee will consider any protest Monday, Garrity said after the meeting.

Metro on 09/14/2017

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