But Haridopolos didn’t just give his client a chance to hang onto a contract one more year. He encouraged Senate budget leaders to steer $10 million more to the program in recognition, Tsamoutales said, of a job well done. “Performance counts,” the lobbyist said.
Legislators whittled that $10 million down to $6 million.
The probation contract belonged to EBA long before Haridopolos rose to power. Indeed, since EBA was first awarded the no-bid contract in 2004, DJJ renewed it twice without having to go through a competitive bidding process, using an exception to the state’s contracting rules that pertains to “health services.”
EBA oversees the probation effort, but all the direct care and supervision is subcontracted to other groups, records show. It also knows how to play the lobbying game.
Before it hired Tsamoutales in 2011, its go-to lobbyist in the Legislature was Esther Nuhfer, a close friend of then-House budget chief and now U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami.
The results of the program have been laudable. State auditors at the Office of Program Policy Analysis hailed the diversion program as so successful at keeping at-risk kids out of expensive residential detention facilities that it concluded that the contract saved the state $51.2 million between 2004 and 2010. But in the last year, Fasano and others began raising questions.
In an Aug. 17 letter to the Department of Juvenile Justice, Fasano said he was surprised to learn the contract had never faced a competitive bid and, despite the program’s success rate, he urged the department to hold the contract “to a higher level of scrutiny.”
He ordered that it be “either immediately cancelled and properly rebid to ensure the public’s trust” or handled in-house.
DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters agreed and, in a Sept. 16 letter to Fasano, said “upon closer examination, we have determined that the use of this exemption from competitive procurement may not be in the best interest of the state.”
Unlike most of DJJ’s contracts with private providers, EBA’s agreement with the state allows the company to evaluate its own performance. DJJ does routine contract monitoring.
The agency’s most recent review of the contract showed that some of the company’s subcontractors have fallen short of key provisions that two-thirds of the program’s clients remain out of jail, and that no more than 40 percent of its graduates commit new crimes.
Some of the efforts served far fewer youth than the contract called for, as well.
Walters followed through on her assurances to Fasano, and sought interested bidders. By January, the agency had heard from 11 other companies, some of whom said they could reduce the amount of money spent on administration.
Legislative budget leaders inserted a requirement that the agency bid out the entire contract — the $9.4 million original contract, which was set to expire in the fall of 2013, and the additional $6 million. When the first draft of the budget omitted a requirement that the $9.4 million contract be put up for bid, Sen. Ronda Storms objected.
‘a better deal’
“If it hasn’t been rebid since 2004, you can’t convince me there’s not a better deal out there unless I see it for myself,’’ said Storms, R-Valrico, during a Feb. 8 meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee.