The Dunleavy administration plan to outsource state personnel work with a small Seattle company could cost $16.8 million over the next two-and-a-half years, according to contract details released by the Dunleavy administration Monday.
The first six months of the contract with Tandem Motion is to cost $4.5 million, with the work involving subcontractors from Washington, Minnesota, and Ohio and more than 50 employees.
Cara Griffith, who owns 51 percent of the company, while her husband has 49 percent, is to make $500 an hour under the contract, putting in 1,064 hours over the next six months for a total of $532,000.
Her husband, “human capital consultant” Kurt Griffith, is to make $250 an hour for 1,064 hours, for a combined Griffith total of $798,000 in six months.
There are plans for two other “human capital consultants” at $250 an hour, two “human capital managers” at $350 an hour, seven “organizational psychology consultants” at $269 an hour, $420 an hour or $391 an hour, and 14 “human resources consultants” at $264 an hour.
Several of the people on the list of Tandem Motion workers or subcontract workers are recent graduates who don’t seem qualified to be hired at these rates. One of the $350-per-hour “human capital consultants” started at Tandem Motion this month, earned a master’s degree this year, and worked as a barista as recently as July 2019.
The first questions to ask are: Why can’t existing state employees do this work? How many jobs in Alaska are to be replaced by high-priced consultants? Why does any of this need to be done? Did a pattern of favoritism led to Tandem Motion getting this work.
The documents released Monday by the state Department of Administration say the state shortened the response time for the request for proposals to 10 days because it is using federal money for the work and it has to be spent quickly.
The documents also show that work that Cara Griffith performed last fall on a volunteer basis with the Department of Environmental Conservation was part of the minimum background experience to qualify for the personnel management contract.
It looks to me as if the state shortened the period for potential bidders to help steer the work toward Tandem Motion and that state officials knew from the start where the contract would land.
The request for proposals was issued July 24 and within days, five state employees in the administration department and the DEC commissioner submitted letters on behalf of Tandem Motion.
The endorsement letters came from Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka, Deputy Administration Commissioner Amanda Holland, Administration Finance Director Hans Zigmund, Personnel Director Pam Day, Human Resources Consultant Peggy Hart and DEC Commissioner Jason Brune.
Tshibaka said she recommended Griffith as a contractor or consultant and found her to be a “force multiplier who will help you achieve hour objectives in record time!”
These letters on state letterhead, especially the one from Tshibaka, are a clear conflict of interest for an administration department procurement. Any state evaluator of this proposal would know who the boss wanted to get the work. Holland wrote a letter of recommendation July 29 for Tandem Motion and signed the contract for the state Aug. 14.
The state refused to release information about the contract, which was signed Aug. 14, until Aug. 24. I think I know why.
While Tandem Motion has only been in existence since May 2019 and registered in Alaska since last October, Griffith has more than the four years experience identified as a minimum bidding requirement, according to the contract.
However, the bidding requirements do not say that one of the owners of a company must have four years experience, that is the minimum for the company. On her list of past work experiences, the only clearly identifiable projects were two she worked on with the state last year.
There is a contradiction between the way in which Administration Commissioner Tshibaka characterized work that Tandem Motion did for the state last fall and how she and the company describe it now.
This is relevant because the company cites that work as an example of a similar project it conducted for a government entity.
I wrote about Tandem Motion last November and its work on a no-bid state contract. Tshibaka responded at the time that Tandem Motion was not a state contractor, but a subcontractor to Collins Alliance.
“The contract for assistance piloting the common, annual performance eval system is with Collins Alliance, not Tandem Motion. Tandem Motion is one of Collins Alliance’s subcontractors. Collins Alliance is a 16-year old company, not a 6-month old company. The contract is for $129,500 for development of performance reviews,” Tshibaka said last November. “The State of Alaska does not have a contract with Tandem Motion.”
“Cara Griffith, formerly with Accenture, is volunteering her time to assist with the implementation of the pilot project at DEC because she is committed to the success of State of Alaska employees. I’m grateful for her service to Alaskans,” Tshibaka wrote last year.
She also said the state “signed a sole source contract with Collins Alliance for the HR consolidation project on August 14, 2019.”
Tandem Motion nows says it led the HR consolidation project last year, not Collins Alliance, and it led a 10-week performance management project last fall for the administration and environmental conservation departments.
While Tshibaka was insistent last fall that Tandem Motion was not a state contractor, she said in her letter of support that “Ms. Griffith and Tandem Motion were more than contractors—they were partners in achieving the vision, transformation and goals we sought as a department.”
The request for proposals was published July 24, with responses due by Aug. 3, later extended to Aug. 5. The state gave itself one day to review the proposals, a schedule that shows everyone knew what was happening.
This contract, which appears to be Tshibaka’s attempt to remake the state work force to match her vision—whatever that is—should be canceled. Not just because of the questions about how and why the contractor was selected, but also because the state is using the pandemic as an excuse to outsource work that state employees can handle.
Dermot Cole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org