Competitive bidding is supposed to protect taxpayers from sweetheart deals and eliminate opportunities for fraud and abuse.
So why did the Texas Education Agency last May eagerly award a $4.4 million, no-bid contract to SPEDx, a small Georgia company with a limited track record in special education analysis, then terminate the agreement last month and launch an internal investigation of the agency's contracting practices?
The TEA has been disturbingly tight-lipped, raising questions about why this contract wasn't competitively bid when others like it would have drawn multiple bidders.
TEA officials claim they did their homework and determined that SPEDx was the only company with the needed expertise. The contract was to provide individualized programs for Texas school districts to use to serve students with disabilities and to create a long-term special education plan for the state.
Alarm bells should have gone off immediately.
By law, no-bid contracts are permitted -- but only if an agency can demonstrate that the sole bidder has unique skills or technology to provide a service that can't be found elsewhere. The bar for no-bid contracts should be high. Apparently it wasn't in this case, according to reporting by the Texas Tribune.
Nor do we know whether taxpayers and school districts got what they paid for, the reason government agencies routinely seek bids from multiple vendors.
SPEDx is not accused of wrongdoing. It's newness to this area of research, however, casts a shadow over the no-bid contract award. Formed less than two years ago, the company's main experience reportedly is a special education analysis contract with Louisiana. The Texas contract is for a far more elaborate state-level and district-level analyses.
We're also concerned about the timing of TEA's dismissal of special education director Laurie Kash, who was fired one day after she filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education over the TEA's handling of the SPEDx deal.
Kash's lawyer provided records to the Texas Tribune indicating that neither the Texas secretary of state nor the governor's budget office had received documentation of the SPEDx contract from TEA as required by state law for a major consulting services contract.
TEA officials insist Kash's firing has nothing to do with her complaint to federal officials. She was fired, they say, because she didn't disclose that she is being sued in Oregon over allegedly covering up the sexual abuse of a 6-year-old at her former employer.
TEA Commissioner Mike Morath has declined to comment about Kash's firing, her complaint or the SPEDx contract.
TEA has handled this issue poorly, and the lack of transparency has ignited a bonfire of suspicion. TEA owes a full and complete public explanation of who signed off on this controversial, no-bid deal -- as well as an detailed accounting of the work SPEDx has, or hasn't, done.