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Tracking Pa.’s Pandemic Spending, By the Numbers

Monday, August 2, 2021 @ 12:08 AM

Posted by Staff, Spotlight PA

image-4 6.26.34 AMSpotlight PA’s tallying of Pennsylvania’s pandemic-related spending led us to the state’s emergency procurement program — a faster and, critics say, less transparent way for agencies to purchase urgently needed supplies and services.

(PHOTO: After a slow start, Pennsylvania used the emergency procurement process to hire a consulting firm to help with the state’s vaccine rollout. PHOTO CREDIT: Fred Adams/For Spotlight PA.)

Byline: Jamie Martines of Spotlight PA

Not unexpectedly, that spending ballooned in 2020, with state agencies requesting to spend $340 million, up from an annual average of $81 million.

Many requests were straightforward, like bulk orders of masks and gloves. Other requests led to scrutiny from Republican lawmakers, and some requests were downright curious — like one from PennDOT for repairs to a plane used for emergency response that collided with a deer.

The requests alone only tell part of the story. State agencies are not required to produce a written contract for emergency procurement requests. Departments under state law must post purchase orders related to those expenses to the Treasury Department website, though there is no mechanism in state law to ensure that happens.

Even with those documents in hand, it’s not always clear whether the work was completed, or how much a contractor was paid. Sometimes, the cost is higher or lower than the original estimate. In some cases reviewed by Spotlight PA, the purchase never happened at all.

These requests also don’t represent the totality of state agencies’ spending in recent months — grants and other procurement processes were also used.

But they do shed light on how the administration responded to the pandemic and what was prioritized. Here are the highlights of what we found via a public records request.

Most expensive pandemic-related requests:

  • $40 millionby the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to hireAMIto provide community vaccination clinics
  • $28.5 millionby the Department of Health to hireCurativeto administer COVID-19 tests in long-term care facilities
  • $25 millionby the Department of Health to hireInsight Globalto administer thecontact tracing program
  • $13 millionby the Department of Labor andIndustry to hireErnst & Youngto assist with unemployment claims
  • $11.6 millionby the Department of Health to hire consulting firmBCGto advise on the vaccine rollout

Most expensive requests not related to pandemic response:

  • $12.5 millionby the Department of General Services to extend an existing contract withMeggitt Training Systems, which provides weapons training to law enforcement
  • $11 millionto extend a contract withMcKessonwhile a new pharmaceutical procurement is finished
  • $6 millionby the Department of General Services to hireInservcoto administer insurance benefit claims
  • $4 millionby the Department of Transportation formotorcycle training providers
  • $3.8 millionby the Department of Education to hireUniversity of Kansas Center for Researchto develop state tests

Other notable requests:

  • $1.2 millionby the State Department for two orders of “sneeze guards” in August and September to be used by county election workers during the pandemic
  • $358,437by the Department of Transportation to hireTextron Aviationto repair a plane damaged after it collided with a deer while taxiing at Chester County airport
  • $207,731by the Game Commission to print the annual Hunting and Trapping Digest usingLiberty Press
  • $81,264by the Office of Attorney General to purchase “pole cameras”fromCrime Point, be used for surveillance during investigations

Agencies that made the most requests:

  • Emergency Management (89)
  • General Services (75)
  • Human Services (74)
  • Corrections (63)
  • Health (46)

Agencies with the highest estimated costs for requests:

  • Health: $104,362,681
  • Emergency Management: $100,354,737
  • General Services: $70,235,224
  • Human Services: $50,020,692
  • Transportation: $30,731,414

WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters.

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