Investigation finds state employees steered contract to retired co-worker

Illinois Capitol News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — A retired state employee who worked at the Illinois Department of Public Health for 33 years won a state deal worth up to $80,000 to work part-time as an outside consultant after his former co-workers steered the contract to him, according to a report published by the Office of the Executive Inspector General.

State records show Don Williams, who retired from IDPH in mid-2017, received $36,040 in contract payments while simultaneously collecting his state pension and Social Security retirement benefits.

In a letter dated August 23rd, 2019, IDPH responded to the OEIG, and said it had voided the contract after someone filed a complaint, alleging a conflict of interest.

The contract shows Williams was paid to perform routine “data entry” work, and the investigation found the state’s Request for Proposal (RFP) was written in such a restrictive manner, it effectively ruled out any other candidates from competing for the work.

Because the total cost of the contract was a “small purchase” under a threshold of $100,000, it did not automatically require the agency to seek multiple competitive bids. The investigation found a state employee emailed Williams a web link when to the state’s bidding website, and Williams applied for the contract merely 11 minutes after the state posted it online.

State Purchasing Officer Alyson Moore flagged Williams’ application as a potential conflict of interest. During an interview with state investigators, Moore said, “there was a conflict because Mr. Williams was seeking to reacquire the same job he had previously been doing, and that he would earn $5,000 more in addition to collecting his State pension,” the report says.

State Procurement Officer Matt Von Behren told the Inspector General that Williams’ bid should have been a “hard no” and he should have been “disqualified from bidding” if a government insider helped him to fill out his resume, or if Williams had inside information about the contract work before it was made public.

Health Facilities and Services Review Board administrator Courtney Avery told the Inspector General she saw Williams as her “best option,” and that it was her “goal” to give the contract to Williams because”it would have taken too long to train someone new.” The Inspector General’s report found, however, that “there would have been ample time to train a new employee.”

The OEIG report concluded that several state employees “improperly prevented competition” and “provided improper assistance” to help steer the contract to Williams. In a letter, Avery disagreed with the investigation’s findings, and argued that the OEIG should keep the report buried, or that it should be redacted to remove her name from it. The OEIG published her name anyways.

After an internal review, the HFSRB declined to take disciplinary action against its employees, and instead required them to undergo training on the competitive bidding process.

The contract was awarded in July of 2018, in the final year of the Rauner administration.

Governor Pritzker’s office said it had discussed the issue with the former HFSRB chairman before the board met to decide on an appropriate course of action. Pritzker’s government lawyer Ann Spillane said the Governor’s Office will “review the State’s procurement system” in response to this episode.

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