Texas’ $295 Million Contact-Tracing Deal Raises Bipartisan Eyebrows

“What we really have here is a giant government contract awarded to a little-known company for something that’s very important,” says the Houston Chronicle’s Jay Root.

By Jill AmentMay 26, 2020 5:25 am, ,

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is facing bipartisan criticism for hastily awarding a nearly $300 million contract to a little-known North Texas company to lead the state’s contact-tracing program in the fight against the coronavirus.

Jay Root, an investigative reporter for The Houston Chronicle, told Texas Standard host David Brown on Tuesday that there is little evidence the company, MTX Group, has the qualifications to manage contact tracing in Texas. He and colleague Jeremy Blackman investigated the contract for a recent Chronicle story.

In its bid to the state, MTX Group proposed to set up a call center and hire contact-tracing agents whose job it is to figure out with whom a person with COVID-19 has been in contact in recent weeks. The company claims to have set up a similar operation in the state of New York, but has not yet spent any of the $46 million awarded as part of its contract there, according to Root and Blackman’s reporting.

“What we really have here is a giant government contract awarded to a little-known company for something that’s very important, but also needs to be done right,” Root said.

MTX Group proposed to hire and manage “well beyond 5,000 agents, if required,” according to an unredacted version of the contract obtained by Hearst Newspapers. That is well beyond the number of agents the state said the company would hire.

Democrats and Republicans have criticized Abbott for the decision.

Several prominent companies had also bid for the contract, Root said, and each had two days to complete a proposal. The contract was awarded six days later.

Another wrinkle, Root said, is that two Austin-based lobbyists each began $50,000 lobbying arrangements with MTX Group the day the state approved its bid.

“So, a lot of questions being raised about the process and the lack of transparency. It took us a week to get the contract, and it was heavily redacted.”

Web story by Caroline Covington.

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