PROVIDENCE — The state Senate this week passed two bills that come in response to the multimillion-dollar education contract that Governor Daniel J. McKee’s administration awarded to ILO Group, which is now the subject of federal and state investigations.
Senator Louis P. DiPalma, a Middletown Democrat, introduced the package of legislation, saying it stems from the work of the Senate Rules, Government Ethics & Oversight Committee, which he chairs.
In the fall, the House and Senate oversight committees conducted hearings into whether the ILO Group had an unfair advantage in securing the state contract because of its ties to McKee.
“ILO clearly had preferential treatment on this procurement,” DiPalma said Friday. “If passed, these changes would seek to ensure that all future procurements are open, fair, and transparent.”
The first bill would require that no request for proposal could be changed to a master-price agreement unless the request for proposal is cancelled and reissued as a master price agreement.
Administration officials have said that after receiving proposals for this education contract, they found they “could not compare apples to apples” because the vendors “didn’t understand what the state was expecting.” The confusion centered on plans for establishing “municipal learning centers” in all 39 cities and towns. So the state ended up awarding the work to ILO and WestEd through a “master-price agreement” process.
During an oversight hearing, Senator James A. Seveney, a Portsmouth Democrat, said, “That wasn’t moving the goal posts – you moved the stadium.”
That legislation also would prohibit companies from bidding on a request for proposal if that entity had any link to an official that participated in crafting that request for proposals.
During oversight hearings, senators noted that the ILO Group’s managing partner, Julia Rafal-Baer, had been a member of the state’s Learning, Equity & Accelerated Pathways (LEAP) Task Force, which issued a report on issues, such as learning loss, that ILO was later hired to address.
The Senate oversight committee also zeroed in on a Zoom call that took place on March 5 — three days after McKee had been sworn in as governor and one day after ILO had formed. Among others, the call included McKee and Mike Magee, one of McKee’s top campaign donors and then-CEO of Chiefs for Change, a network of state and district education chiefs. Senators noted that Rafal-Baer, who worked for Chiefs for Change at that time, had been invited to join that Zoom meeting but did not participate.
The second bill would ensure that the chief purchasing officer confirms there are no conflicts or appearances of conflicts of interest between the interests of any individual appointed to a technical evaluation committee and the interests of the state.
The bill aims to “ensure that there are no conflicts of interest for anyone involved in the procurement,” DiPalma told the Senate. “One would expect that’s a pattern of course, a pattern of behavior that would naturally followed by process. It wasn’t.”
The oversight committee reviewed hundreds of emails regarding the contract procurement process and found conflict of interest forms were not signed by all of the people who should have signed them, he said.
The bill also requires that a state agency serve as the signatory on contracts resulting from requests for proposals. DiPalma said that in this case, the governor’s office was the signatory rather than the state education department.
“What these two bills seek to address are what we believe the state needs to ensure those loopholes are in fact closed,” he said.
The Senate voted 37-0 for both bills.
The legislation now heads to the House of Representatives, where Representative Patricia A. Serpa, a West Warwick Democrat who chairs the House Oversight Committee, has introduced companion bills.
If approved, the legislation would go to McKee’s desk.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.