GAR response: Get it where you can
In sourcing for vendors for the CNMI’s COVID-19 response operations, they get it where they can.
That’s according to Patrick Guerrero, the Governor’s Authorized Representative, at a hearing conducted by the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding last week.
In cases of immediate emergency, this is usually practiced for just up to the first two months only, he added.
This is in response to an inquiry from Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan) regarding the decision-making that happens when sourcing for vendors.
“Usually, the first 30, 45, sometimes 60 days of a disaster, it’s ‘get it where you can,’ ‘get it where you already know they can deliver,’” he said, “…At the beginning of the disaster, when you’ve already identified somebody and they meet your needs, they meet your timing, they’re performing, we don’t really [need] to look for another person right away.”
Guerrero was quick to acknowledge that, as the disaster continues to unfold, to be more competitive, and to meet federal regulations, the CNMI government should spend more time to reach out to others who could provide the needed services for the island’s pandemic-related operations.
For services that the government needs long-term, the governor’s authorized representative extends the invitation for other vendors to bid, and also recommended for the CNMI Homeland Security to spend more time seeking out sources.
“We’re working toward that because the [Attorney General]…wants to make sure that we’re justifying these purchases and not just sole-sourcing, or giving it to one particular vendor over and over again, unless, nobody else can do so,” he added.
At the session, it was explained that the Emergency Operations Center of the CNMI Homeland Security handles the procurement processes for emergency contracts, with review from the Office of the Attorney General.
When asked by Sablan about playing favorites and the potential for kickbacks in the awarding of contracts, in reference to talks about Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ staff being awarded a contract to provide for some meals, Guerrero flat-out said that he is not aware of the situation.
“I am not aware of that member of the Governor’s staff, or the company that’s providing services. That’s not to my knowledge,” he said.
Further, Finance Secretary David Atalig stressed that the company Sablan was “alluding to” is not being favored, adding that several companies have been tapped to also provide meal services.
In a list of contracts provided to lawmaker at the session, four vendors were identified to have provided for a cumulative $68,750.55 worth of meals: Tony Roma’s, Kent Kalen DBA Legends BBQ, J’s Restaurant, and Terry’s Snack Bar.
“This company that you’re alluding to is not being favored because they’re only providing just one meal a day, and then being rotated by different agencies that are ordering. And their orders are not even at the level of some of the other vendors that we’re paying,” Atalig added. “We’ve had community members contact us saying how can we also provide, and so we did include the bid, and we try to rotate this. As GAR [Guerrero] said, share the wealth among all the available providers out there for meals.”
He also said that, as the Attorney General always reiterates, “in an emergency, get services for the two- or three-week peak period, and then give yourself some time to seek other sources to be more competitive.”
However, according to Guerrero, some contracts can get cancelled either due to the inability of the vendor to supply what is needed, or if the purchase is no longer a need.
“Sometimes, it’s the inability of the vendor to supply the good or service that could cause cancellation. Or it might no longer be a need before the vendor even supplies that product or service. Why purchase when there is no longer a need?” he added.
Spreading the wealth
According to Guerrero, after that immediate emergency, time should be spent reaching out to vendors who could be interested in providing services related to the operations.
Vendors who would want to provide services, are “more than expected” by Homeland Security’s Emergency Operations Center Planning Section, he added. “Spread the wealth, so to speak, but at the same time, as long as they can deliver the resource…they could reach out to Homeland Security, and give out their pricing and what their capacity is.”
Guerrero also added that while they do a lot of things manually in terms of procurement, a platform called Web EOC is on the way, which would enable vendors to easily interact digitally with Homeland Security. The service also works with the Public Assistance Program.
“It will allow for the vendors to be interactive with Homeland Security and put their resources up there and their rates and things like that,” he added.
According to Guerrero, the service might be up and running in the next 30 days, and will be made available to all private partners.