...with this story?
The Ehrlich administration fast-tracked a minority business application from a group of prominent Republican women, clearing the way for their hastily formed firm to participate in a $110 million information technology contract with the Department of Human Resources, an investigation by The Sun reveals.
The company, called Isis Technology Consulting LLC, was the brainchild of long-time GOP strategist Carol L. Hirschburg. As a subcontractor on the DHR job, the firm had already received some compensation when the deal went sour last month, in large part because Hirschburg wanted a guarantee that her firm would collect nearly $12 million over three years.
A review of state records shows that Isis was certified as a minority business in 30 days instead of 90 to 120 days, the typical waiting time. Isis also was given leeway to bend regulations intended to help "disadvantaged" individuals - those with personal net worth of $1.5 million or less - compete for state contracts.
Isis' preferential treatment has caught the attention of the newly installed administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley. Reacting to The Sun's questions about Isis, John D. Porcari, the acting secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, the agency that oversees the minority business program, said he has ordered an audit of all firms that were fast-tracked in recent years, including during the last Democratic administration.
I don't want to draw any hasty conclusions, but something seems fishy about this situation. It definitely bears watching.
Normally, I leave state issues to the newspapers and other bloggers, but this story has a local connection.
...[S]tate records show that two non-minority firms - Syscom and ACS State and Local Solutions Inc. - played direct roles in the formation of Isis.
Hirschburg registered Isis' corporate charter with the state Aug. 26, 2005, the day after Syscom executives Theodore Bayer and Mark Anzmann, the husbands of two Isis team members, met with DHR procurement staff. Also in attendance was Christopher J. Merdon, an ACS executive and former Republican Howard County Council member who ran unsuccessfully for county executive last year.
Merdon chose Isis, and three other minority firms with Republican ties, to team with ACS on the DHR bid, according to state records.
DHR set a 35 percent minority business participation goal for the project. Isis, according to a document submitted by Merdon, was to perform 11 percent of the work, including "DHR website maintenance" and enhancement of one computer system to monitor welfare payments and another, known as "Chessie," to track foster children. Troubled Chessie has cost close to $70 million in state and federal money.
Besides Isis, Merdon selected Gantech Inc., a Rockville firm headed by Hispanic-American Thomas J. Laskowski III, which contributed more than $5,000 to Merdon's failed campaign for county executive, and Maricom Systems Inc., the CEO of which is Maria E. Jackson, an African-American who served on an Ehrlich business advisory committee.
Merdon also tapped the Canton Group, a Baltimore company that is controlled in part by Asian-American Aaron Kazi, a Republican who ran for Harford County executive last year. Kazi's firm performed Web site work for Ehrlich's 2002 gubernatorial campaign as well as for several state agencies under his administration.
Of Merdon's minority firm picks, Isis was the only one without state certification.
As I said, there's not enough information to say with any certainty that impropriety was involved or what this means in the bigger picture.
But what do you think? Are insider deals and favors endemic in our political system, or should we expect better? What about the broader implications of this still-breaking story?