Massachusetts officials have repeatedly cautioned agencies against regularly pursuing no-bid contracts, arguing they’re “counterproductive” and eliminate competition. An open process is both fair and ensures taxpayers get the best deal, they’ve said. And just last fall, state investigators criticized the MBTA, saying such deals should be used in only “limited circumstances.”
Yet shortly into her tenure as state transportation secretary, Gina Fiandaca turned to Bill Bratton, a well-known figure and former family member, as she faced mapping a response to a scathing federal review of the T. Months after that, Bratton’s firm scored a no-bid deal to help the agency with that very task.
MBTA officials this week signed a $900,000 consulting contract with Teneo Strategy LLC, under which Bratton, the former Boston police commissioner and Fiandaca’s ex-brother-in-law, will help advise her department and the T as it grapples with a response to a score of federal directives.
Under the eight-month deal, Teneo is charged with creating a “performance management system” at the MBTA and MassDOT to aid the T’s response to the Federal Transit Administration’s probe of the transit agency last year. The firm’s work will include coaching senior leaders and examining the “organizational culture” in both departments, according to a copy of the deal provided to the Globe.
Bratton, now executive chairman of Teneo’s risk advisory division, is serving in an advisory role on the contract and is listed among the “key personnel” the firm is providing. MassDOT officials said Bratton is not involved in the day-to-day work.
Bratton told the Globe that Fiandaca first approached him after her appointment in January, expressing to him her desire to develop a new management system at MassDOT that’s similar to one Bratton first created in the mid-1990s.
In an ethics disclosure obtained through a public records request, Fiandaca acknowledged her ties to Bratton — the financial benefit he may stand to gain — while pointing to a section in the MBTA’s procurement policy that allows so-called sole source awards in cases of “public exigency or emergency.”
Conducting “a full and open competition would result in an unacceptable delay, especially in light of the FTA Final Report,” MassDOT officials said in response to Globe questions.
State officials said the T followed its own procedures, and had an outside firm, Nossaman LLP, write the rationale for the noncompetitive contract, including the argument that other consultants would not offer the same experience as Teneo. The firm has also worked for other transit agencies, including the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and the Los Angeles Metro.
“Previous relationships were not a factor in in [sic] the procurement process for this urgent work,” MassDOT officials said in a statement to the Globe.
Bratton launched what’s known as CompSTAT in the New York City Police Department nearly 30 years ago, when he was commissioner there, and it has since been used in police departments in various cities, including Boston, Baltimore, and Los Angeles, where Bratton also was chief.
In recent years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York has also adopted it, and Fiandaca said Boston’s transportation department used it in its parking enforcement division while she served as commissioner there.
Teneo’s consulting contract with the MBTA and MassDOT specifically calls for the creation of a “CompSTAT style” framework.
“I’m probably the foremost expert on CompSTAT in the world,” Bratton said in an interview. “The concept, while it’s associated with policing, is a system that can work in any component of government.”
Bratton and Fiandaca’s sister, Cheryl — the chief investigative reporter at WBZ-TV — were married for about a decade before divorcing in the late 1990s, though Bratton said he has remained on good terms with the family.
“I’ve been very fortunate with my divorces,” said Bratton, who has married four times. “I’ve been able to keep relationships with the families.”
He said he also believes his former familial ties with Gina Fiandaca were “not significant” in her decision to first contact him.
“What you’ll find is, Gina is all business. She’s a very talented woman,” Bratton said. “And I’ve delivered in every department I’ve ever worked for.”
Asked why she personally contacted Bratton, Fiandaca said that he “was married to my sister, [and] he’s been a leader in this space of strategic decision-making.”
“And we’ve kept in touch over the years,” she said. The MBTA is “a troubled organization that needs, sort of, fixing. How do you get in there and identify how you do that?”
Good government and transit advocates, however, questioned the rationale that hiring a consultant is so time sensitive that it warrants a no-bid deal.
“It seems like a stretch,” said Mary Z. Connaughton, chief operating officer at the Pioneer Institute and a former board member of the now-defunct Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. “After all, how will T staff and the public know the authority got the best value without knowing who else was out there to provide it?”
There is likely value in T leaders getting more training, said Jarred Johnson, executive director of the advocacy group TransitMatters, but the system is also facing an array of other pressing problems.
”We’re very close to a year of subway service being well below the T service delivery policy,” he said. “I think riders would need more convincing about what immediate impact this [contract] is going to have on their lives.”
State officials specifically warned the MBTA against regularly using no-bid contracts as recently as last fall. In reviewing a contract with a company that handled leave requests for the T, the state inspector general’s office wrote in an October report that noncompetitive contracts “may be permissible,” such as when a certain service is available only from a single source.
But they should be an exemption, not a rule, investigators said.
“State agencies should limit their use of sole source procurements because competitive bidding saves money and promotes fairness and transparency,” the inspector general wrote.
The T’s decision to sign the no-bid contract comes at a time of intense scrutiny, both by federal regulators and the public at large. After launching a review of the agency last spring, the FTA said last summer that the T needed more oversight of contractor work sites, and had ineffective safety communications, among other shortcomings.
In April, federal officials again raised alarms about safety incidents after the T experienced four “near-miss events” — a term the agency uses when a train gets dangerously close to workers — in the span of only a few weeks.
Since taking office, Governor Maura Healey has tapped a new general manager at the MBTA in Phillip Eng, and made three new appointments to the beleaguered agency’s seven-member board of directors, including a new chair.
Under the contract with Teneo — which is slated to run until the end of December — the firm will collect data and develop a management framework for the MBTA and MassDOT’s Highway Division, including establishing a set of metrics officials can track over time.
Fiandaca, whom Healey hired from the city of Austin, Texas, to join her Cabinet, said the goal is to provide more than an organizational assessment or produce a report that “says this is what you’re doing wrong as an organization, go fix it.”
“It’s a system that will sort of permeate the organization,” she said.
Fiandaca wrote in the ethics disclosure that she would both approve and direct the implementation of any recommendations that she “deem[s] appropriate and beneficial” from the firm.
MassDOT and the MBTA are splitting the $900,000 cost, officials said.
Work under the contract has already begun. Teneo personnel began interviewing senior leaders at the MBTA and MassDOT in recent days, said Bratton, who described his role as providing “oversight.”
“I’m in and out of Boston all the time,” he said. “I still get The Boston Globe every day, and the Boston Herald.”