(KUTV) — On Wednesday, the Office of the State Auditor released its review of actions taken by the state of Utah and Gov. Gary Herbert to prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, citing several areas that have room for much improvement.
The Limited Review of State Emergency Procurements and Emergency Response included an analysis of the state’s level of preparedness, coordination in the beginning stages of the COVID-19 outbreak and declared emergency.
The emergency procurements occurred between March 6 and May 7.
"The Office acknowledges the unprecedented nature of this pandemic and recognizes that decisions were made quickly in an evolving situation with many unknowns at the time," a press release from the audit office state.
The goal of the review was to evaluate various events and processes to identify areas where improvements can be made to safeguard both public health and public funds and to ensure that limited resources are used effectively.
2News Jim Spiewak reports the following four items were noted by the auditors:
The report states that even though the Utah Department of Health was designated as the primary agency to respond to a pandemic, they had little involvement in the decisions to purchase the COVID-19 dashboard and other services produced by GOMB (Silicon Slopes contracts).
The Unified Command was not set up until three weeks after Herbert issued an emergency declaration. By that time, GOMB was already issuing no-bid contracts to Silicon Slopes tech companies. “UC should have been established when it was clear there would be need for large-scale response," the report states, along with several concerns.
“GOMB gave preference to the Silicon Slopes affiliated companies that had already begun mobilization to address the emergency on their own. We are concerned various high-level state officials failed to understand the evolving nature of these public-private agreements," the report states.
We are concerned the lack of documented competitive analysis for these contracts indicates that a reasonable analysis may not have taken place.
It could not be verified if Silicon Slopes tech companies profited from the pandemic response.
“When the governor announced an official partnership with Silicon Slopes on April 2, 2020, Silicon Slopes stated ‘no tech company is going to make any money off of this.’ However, we cannot validate that claim.”
Herbert's Chief of Staff Justin Harding responded to the review, agreeing with many of the recommendations and defending others. Read the review here.
The report also brought up concerns about contracts initiated by the governor's office.
“Many we spoke with indicated they do not remember details of discussions or who was involved, particularly over purchase of medication," the report states. "This uncertainty combined with lack of written documentation complicated our review.”
The state office says it could find "no evidence verbal or otherwise, that the Health Department authorized the purchase" of hydroxychloroquine. "Without written documentation...we are concerned that this purchase occurred without anyone’s explicit authorization," the report states.
Utah paid $6.35 million to Twenty Labs for a contact tracing app, Health Together App. The audit criticized this purchase, saying it "prioritized location tracking functionality and development speed over alternative options, resulting in higher price."
The audit found "no evidence that the state performed any meaningful cost analysis to determine if the $6.35 million price was reasonable. The broad scope of work likely contributed to delays in deliverables."
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