Gov. Abbott Grilled Over $295M Contact Tracing Agreement
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is reportedly "pushing back hard" in contradiction of "bipartisan criticism" of a rapidly granted contract, putting what's considered a "little-known North Texas technology company" in-charge of Texas's initiatives to trace individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
MTX Group, the company the governor dealt with, affirmed in its bid for the contract that amounted to $295 million, though with no sufficient evidence, that it is well-experienced in doing contact tracing in several states in the country. According to John Wittman, a spokesman for Abbott, listing states including Florida, Massachusetts, and New York, Gov. Abbott pointed to the tech company's experience in applying response systems for COVID-19 which include contact tracing in other states. Essentially, the spokesman added, the contract's every aspect "is being paid for with federal funds." Witmann added that Abbott was guaranteed that Texans' privacy would be respected as indicated in the terms of the agreement.
Declining Requests for Interview and Refusing to Answer Questions
MTX has reportedly been rejecting repeated requests for interviews. It has also been refusing to respond to questions about its undertakings in other states. A public report stated that this tech firm employed roughly 200 employees as of late 2019. It added, most of these employees are based in India. Meanwhile, legislators from both parties, reportedly shocked by the massive contract, is continuously heaping criticism on the rapid bid solicitation process, not to mention, the lack of transparency over the civil rights of those who be contacted by the contact tracers.
The Department of State Health Service, the government agency that will watch over the project said, bidders had two days, specifically until May 7, for their proposals to be put together. The multi-million dollar deal was signed on May 13, by Phil Wilson, the acting Health and Human Services Commissioner. That was the same day, lobbyists from Austin, Dean and Andrea McWilliams listed as the official start date for the deal with the tech company, which they reportedly cost $50,000 each.
Redaction of Important Information
Recent reports said the agreement has stimulated arguments since a media firm first released a report about it a week ago. Health authorities on Friday came out with a "redacted copy" of the multi-million contract, reportedly blacking out considerable portions of the bid proposal of MTX.
Reportedly, news agency, Hearst Newspapers was able to obtain the so-called "unredacted version" of the agreement showing the level of censorship of MTX's bid: description of the company's hiring process has been blocked out, the exact number of employees who could be taken on board, and the platform for contact tracing to be employed and the app's visualizations showing how the company can help keep track of the people infected, those they interact with, and their family members.
Even though officials of the state already said that the tech firm would possibly hire contract tracers not exceeding 1,000, MTX stated in their bid that it could source far more than 5,000 agents should they be required to do so.
Currently, the model is proposing 4,500 as the company believes its contact tracing platform, as well as its calls center, can contribute to the reduction of requirements for agents. The said statements were reportedly redacted from the version the news agency obtained. According to Chris Van Deusen, DSHS spokesman, the agency permitted MTX to decide what part of their bid could be released for now.
It was MTX, the spokesman said, "who made the redactions for details" he added, "claimed as proprietary."
Additionally, according to Van Deusen, the Office of the Attorney General has been asked to decide if the said sections would be blacked out, or allow for the public to see them. More so, the Attorney General's Office is tasked to evaluate too, the agreement as obtained under the law of the state for deals more than $250 million.
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