ANNAPOLIS – Two companies battled over the contract to provide child support services in Baltimore City and Queen Anne’s County, forcing the state Board of Public Works to postpone the decision for a second time Wednesday.
“I think all parties knew that this would be controversial,” said Chris McCabe, secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources. The bid process was “thorough and professional,” he said.
The brouhaha stemmed from the department’s decision to award the contract to the Denver-based Policy Studies Inc. instead of the current provider, MAXIMUS Inc.
At the meeting, MAXIMUS charged that the department’s bid process was unfair, while others worried the provider switch would confuse parents receiving the services.
“You know that old saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?'” said Delegate Hattie Harrison, D-Baltimore. She told the board that constituent complaint calls stopped once MAXIMUS took over. “I know that MAXIMUS is working.”
PSI’s plans include moving to a new office in July, which opponents say would cause confusion for parents accustomed to the current Howard Street location.
“There will be confusion. . . . Sometimes something different isn’t always better,” said Dwayne Brown, project manager for the Child Support Enforcement Agency office in Baltimore City and Queen Anne’s County. “It may or may not be the greatest location, but it is stable.”
State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer demanded to know why switching vendors would be an improvement. Schaefer, Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Treasurer Nancy Kopp constitute the Board of Public Works.
“It doesn’t sound to me like MAXIMUS was that bad,” Schaefer said.
Department officials said the decision was not based on deficiencies by MAXIMUS. An evaluation committee looked at both companies’ proposals and recommended PSI, they said.
“We need to try to get the best value,” McCabe told the board. “They (PSI) were prepared to take this to the next level.”
But others said the purpose of privatization was to improve child support enforcement in Baltimore, and MAXIMUS wasn’t living up to its promises.
“Is the transition going to be painful? Yes,” said Paula Roberts, a researcher with the Center for Law and Social Policy. “But does the state need to do something to improve performance in Baltimore City? Yes.”
Plans to ease the transition to PSI and inform clients are in place, according to Brian Shea, director of the Child Support Enforcement Agency.
The contract has been the subject of debate since June, when DHR originally awarded it to PSI. MAXIMUS filed a protest, and the board extended the current contract while the Maryland State Board of Contract Appeals reviewed the bid process and decided it was awarded to PSI fairly.
But representatives for MAXIMUS said that the review was not fair because PSI didn’t properly complete the bid. The MAXIMUS proposal was $56.8 million, and PSI’s was $56.3 million.
“MAXIMUS deserves some due process and its day in court,” said Bruce Bereano, lobbyist for MAXIMUS.
He accused DHR of setting PSI up to fail so that child support services would revert back to state control.
“We’ve maintained all along that the agenda is for privatization to fail,” Bereano said. “If PSI fails because they can’t financially handle it, it falls back to the state, which is what the state has wanted all along.”
State officials dismissed the accusations.
“That is so outrageous to me,” Shea told the board. “That’s not even feasible.”
PSI has never defaulted on this type of contract, according to Robert Williams, the company’s president.
Since the new contract is set to start in January, DHR officials worried that postponing the decision would hurt the transition process.
“Any delay would have an impact on the smooth transition,” McCabe said.
Ehrlich said the board would postpone the decision in order to digest the information from the meeting.