Increases in vaccinations statewide and modest improvements in some key measurements of the pandemic in Maryland do not mean the state is out of the woods, said Gov. Larry Hogan.
Hogan, speaking to reporters, rejected comments made by Comptroller Peter Franchot Wednesday declaring the era of the emergency over. The state’s top tax collector made the declaration as he criticized the use of emergency procurement powers more than a year into the pandemic.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” Hogan said Thursday. “The last thing that we would want to do is get inside the 20 yard line and then fumble the football. We have to score and get this thing done and get back to normal.”
The comments come one day after a heated exchange between Hogan and Franchot during a Board of Public Works meeting. Franchot, now a Democratic candidate for governor, raised concerns about the administration securing consulting services from Ernst & Young and other vendors through emergency contracts rather than traditional competitive bidding more than a year into the pandemic.
Franchot said the “era” of needing emergency contracts for the pandemic was over.
“I just view this as a form of misuse and abuse of emergency procurement regulations,” said Franchot, who also said he would ultimately vote to approve the contract. “I think it is completely unacceptable to see this rise again and again and again. It raises the question: Are we doing an intentional bypassing of the board’s critical authority to provide oversight to the state procurement system.”
The Health Department hired Ernst & Young to help with its statewide vaccination efforts. More than 90 Ernst & Young employees have worked with the state to build and manage a supply distribution chain, train state employees, and improve data reporting.
The Maryland Department of Health withdrew the request for approval on March 24. At the time, Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp had questions about the emergency contract for roughly $3.2 million, which later grew to about $3.8 million.
But Franchot said he had “significant concerns” about the request, which he said returned “transformed, I’d call it” into an extended consulting services contract valued at about $25 million.
“This has been a work in progress,” said Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader. “We wanted to come back with the full scope. I didn’t want to come back and ask for the original today without disclosing that this is a much bigger effort that is going to take us into October.”
Franchot called the consulting contract and others secured late in the pandemic under emergency procurement powers “questionable.”
“At some point this has to stop, and you have to get back into the normal rhythm of procurement,” said Franchot.
Kopp did not raise concerns. Ultimately, All three members voted to approve the slate of contracts that included the agreement with Ernst & Young.
Hogan and Franchot, in the early days of the governor’s administration, often were allies on the Board of Public Works, much to the dismay of the comptroller’s fellow Democrats. But Franchot’s comment Wednesday about the propriety of the contracts appeared to irritate Hogan, who said such contracts were not questionable.
“It is an emergency,” said Hogan. “We are in a state of emergency and we cant follow the normal procurement process. It’s patently absurd.”
The governor added later that “normal procedures” are not set up for a pandemic, and his administration will continue to use emergency contracting that is allowed by law.
“It will continue to be an emergency until we finish the vaccines and until the hospitals stop overflowing and we don’t have people dying every day. When I lift the state of emergency, then we can go back to a long drawn-out procurement process. In the meantime, we’re not going to.”