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Treasurer, Rep. question Corbett no-bid contract - abc27 WHTM

Treasurer, Rep. question Corbett no-bid contract

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Pa-dot-gov. It's the state's website, and just about everyone agrees it is desperately in need of a make-over.

Same story with the websites for the agencies, boards and commissions under Governor Corbett's control.

On tax day, the Department of Revenue website crashed and taxpayers were given an extra day to file. Just the latest example of a huge and growing problem, complained one state worker who asked to remain anonymous.

Help could be on the way thanks to a company called NICUSA, which has contracted with the state to completely revamp all of its websites and online offerings. But that contract is raising eyebrows across Harrisburg.

NICUSA got the work without competing for it. It's called a no-bid contract.

Office of Administration spokesman Dan Egan defended it. "NIC is the only company that offers the full range of services that the commonwealth is seeking."

Representative Robert Matzie (D-Allegheny,Beaver) doesn't think so. "If somebody screwed up in the administration and should have done this in a different manner and put this out to bid, I want to know," said Matzie.

Matzie did research and found that NIC does work in 28 other states and in all 28 had to win through the competitive bidding process. Why not in Pennsylvania? 

Additionally, he says he found language in the contract that said there'd be no cost to the taxpayer. So why has NIC billed the state $2.2 million?

Matzie sent letters to Attorney General Kathleen Kane (predecessor Linda Kelly signed off on the deal two days after the November election), Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, and Treasurer Robert McCord, asking for them all to investigate.  

McCord did, and said something didn't look right about the deal so he halted payment to NIC.

McCord is a likely candidate for governor but says he's especially uncomfortable with the no-bid nature of the NIC deal.

"I'm tired of people talking like they're for competition and markets and then they engage in what I think of as crony capitalism, as in no-bid process, a sweetheart deal and ultimately the taxpayer ends up picking up the bill for that.  This 'may' and I emphasize the word 'may' be an example of that."

Egan insists it isn't, that the contract's on the up-and-up. He said beginning July 1, NIC will be paid by increased fees insurance companies would pay to pull motor vehicle records of drivers. After July 1, no tax dollars will be spent on NIC and, Egan says, it will eventually be a great deal for taxpayers since it's financially self-sustaining.

But the state wanted to get NIC on the job January 1, Egan says, and that's why it promised to pay the $2.2 million. "It was necessary to get NIC working as soon as possible to avoid potential loss of website service."

McCord sent a letter to Corbett Friday with questions it wants answered before it will pay NIC. He said that happens hundreds of times each month with various vendors and is somewhat routine. Egan says the administration was rounding up the answers and will satisfy the Treasurer's request. 

But Matzie still has nagging doubts. He wonders, for example, why the Corbett Administration issued a press release moments after its contract with Camelot to take over the Pa. Lottery, but he had to dig deep to find any information about the NIC deal.

"If it's so great," Matzie asks, "If they're not trying to hide something. Why? Why didn't they just issue a press release?"

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