Guest Columnist

Iowans are ill-served by state government's shady contracts

Snubbing contract procedures is an especially peculiar move for a gubernatorial administration and political party that claims to value competition.

The ornamental decorations of the Iowa Capitol dome are seen from outside in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (And
The ornamental decorations of the Iowa Capitol dome are seen from outside in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

The state government’s business dealings with an out-of-state tech company raise concerns about transparency and possible

political kickbacks.

Last year, Iowa signed a multimillion-dollar contract with California-based Workday to provide digital human resources and financial services, followed by another contract signed last month for additional services, The Gazette’s Erin Jordan reported last week. In all, the deals total about $50 million in expenses for Iowa taxpayers.

Gazette Investigates: State of Iowa signs $50 million computing contract without typical competitive bidding

We are disturbed that those costly agreements were established without the competitive bidding process typically required by Iowa law. While such maneuvers might not be illegal, they sorely lack in opportunities for public oversight and accountability.

Iowa State University entered an agreement with the same company in 2016, but only after undergoing the typical competitive bidding process — the job was publicly posted, several firms were invited to participate and two finalists were chosen to give demonstrations. That’s how this is supposed to work.

Before hiring Workday last year, Iowa government leaders effectively sidestepped the competitive bidding process with help from another out-of-state firm. The Iowa Office of the Chief Information Officer — a position appointed by the governor — collaborated with Texas-based National Cooperative Purchasing Alliance to select a company without calling for new bids.

A representative from the National Cooperative Purchasing Alliance told The Gazette’s Jordan that Iowa officials had a preference for Workday: “They get to use that vendor that they wanted to use. It saves them a lot of time and effort.”

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Snubbing contract procedures is an especially peculiar move for a gubernatorial administration and political party that claims to value competition.

In 2018, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature that strengthened bidding requirements for construction projects. Proponents said the legislation would prevent government officials from giving preference to friends and allies.

That apparent disconnect reflects poorly on the Reynolds administration, but it gets even worse. One Workday lobbyist is Jake Ketzner, a longtime associate of Reynolds and former Gov. Terry Branstad. Ketzner served as Reynolds’ chief of staff from 2017 to 2018.

Reynolds’ spokesman said Ketzner had no involvement in the Workday contract. Ketzner declined to comment and hung up the phone on a Gazette journalist. Iowans are left wondering how a politically connected company got such a lucrative deal.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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