Texas Lawmakers Sue Gov. Abbott over Contact Tracing Deal

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Posted: Aug 06, 2020 12:45 PM
Texas Lawmakers Sue Gov. Abbott over Contact Tracing Deal

Source: (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

Five GOP lawmakers filed a lawsuit against Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott (R) over a contact-tracing contract signed with MTX Group in May. The Frisco-based private company agreed to a $295.3 million dollar deal after defeating several well-known corporations. But lawmakers argue that the bidding process bypassed constitutional requirements and voice concerns about the ability of MTX to mitigate privacy concerns.

“The request for proposal for the contract was inadequate, the contract bid process was a sham, and the contract impermissibly exceeds two years,” the complaint states. "The governor cannot establish new state policy, issue a $295 million contract to implement that policy, and ignore or suspend state statutes just by claiming ‘it’s a disaster.'"

MTX has already implemented smaller contact tracing programs in several states, including New York and Florida. The 156-page contract indicates that MTX intends to train and manage up to 5,000 contact tracing staff, 4,000 of whom are hired by state and city governments. 

Texas’ biannual legislature is not scheduled to meet until January and Abbott has not called for a 30-day special session. Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster on March 13 and has since directed the state’s response to COVID-19 via executive order. Both Republican and Democrat officials have criticized his seemingly disjointed mandates.

State Rep. Mike Lang, one of the cosigners in the lawsuit, told Texas Scorecard, “It is unfortunate to see the Governor continues his unprecedented constitutional overreach. The Governor is showing a true lack of respect to the people of Texas, the governmental process, and the legislature.”

The other GOP lawmakers party to the lawsuit are state Representatives Kyle Biederman, William Zedler and Steve Toth, and state Senator Bob Hall. The complaint accuses Abbott, the Texas Department of State Health Services and MTX of failing “to follow competitive bidding rules” and keep policy decisions under the jurisdiction of the state legislative body.

Not only did Abbott neglect to publicize the contact tracing request for proposal, the lawmakers allege, but a shortened response time hampered potential for other groups to develop cheaper, more efficient alternatives. A seclet group of companies had only two days to submit their proposals. Eight days later, the contract was awarded to MTX ahead of other prominent vendors, including Accenture and IBM.

The Texas Legislature had no opportunity to review the final proposal before Abbott authorized it in May.

Hall questioned MTX’s ability to handle the large program: “You don’t go from a $1 to 2 million contract company to managing a $300 million contract just because you want to do that,” he told KTVT in July. 

Other news outlets have reported on privacy violations associated with MTC: in May, it “mistakenly uploaded” job training documents. MTX CEO Das Nobel also lied that he held a doctorate from Colorado Technical University on his LinkedIn bio, a statement he then redacted. 

In a statement to the Houston Chronicle, MTX said it welcomed critique and is cooperating to “make sure [lawmakers] have answers to their questions.”