CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia's largest agency shows a pattern of failure when it comes time to award multimillion-dollar contracts, two lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Resources said in lawsuits filed Tuesday.
In two separate whistleblower suits, the lawyers - Susan Perry, DHHR's deputy secretary for legal affairs, and Jennifer Taylor, its general counsel - blast the agency for a "track record of errors" Perry and Taylor had to correct or tried to keep the agency from making.
DHHR Acting Secretary Rocco Fucillo, in turn, put Perry and Taylor on paid leave in mid-July. A third official, assistant secretary John Law, who handled public relations for DHHR, is also on leave.
The three apparently were "reassigned" after they raised questions about a multimillion-dollar marketing contract DHHR has since awarded to the highest bidder.
Now, 12 weeks since being placed on leave, Perry and Taylor said they are whistleblowers who are being punished for trying to prevent wrongdoing or waste.
The marketing contract, estimated to be worth $3.5 million, was awarded to Fahlgren Mortine for one year's work. To pick Ohio-based Fahlgren, DHHR passed over three lower bidders.
A three-member evaluation committee, led by Law's deputy, Marsha Dadisman, reviewed the bids and decided the contract should go to Fahlgren.
The committee's room for error was small: Of 100 possible points, Fahlgren received 93.96 in the scoring process. The Arnold Agency, which was DHHR's former advertising firm, received 93 points and was the lowest bidder.
After reviewing the scoring, Taylor found the decision "legally indefensible," according to the suits.
In mid-September, DHHR's Office of the Inspector General had an unusually lengthy search warrant issued for the offices of the three on leave. The warrant was ostensibly to search for evidence that Law, Perry and Taylor may have illegally interfered with the multimillion-dollar marketing contract.
But Walt Auvil, the Parkersburg lawyer who filed the lawsuits in Kanawha Circuit Court, said the document read more like a press release than a search warrant. It was also unclear why the department waited nearly two months to formally seek information from within its own offices.
Perry and Taylor's suits on Tuesday describe a far different scenario from the search warrant. The warrant alleged the group tried to "favor" Charleston-based Arnold Agency.
But, according to the whistleblower suits, Dadisman, the head of the evaluation committee, was worried about the contract going to Fahlgren. She told Law that the evaluation committee expected a protest of its decision, according to the suits.
Law is said to have become worried about more legal troubles for DHHR.
"These concerns were heightened by a recent pattern of (the DHHR purchasing office's) failure to properly handle bids, contracts and other matters," the suits allege.
Taylor and Perry "had previously corrected the mistakes of Warren Keefer, Bryan Rosen and others in the (DHHR purchasing office)."
Rosen is the head of DHHR's purchasing office. Keefer is a DHHR deputy secretary and also Rosen's boss.
DHHR - specifically Rosen's office - has had recent trouble with some bids. One $200 million computer contract has been rebid twice, once because of unrevealed problems and a second time because the procedure was tainted by a conflict of interest.
According to the suits, Keefer and Rosen "so mishandled" those first two bids that Taylor and Perry had to spend hours responding to requests from the Legislative Auditor's Office and fixing a third bid request document so that problems didn't occur yet again.
When it came to the marketing contract, the lawyers were so concerned about the scoring, they warned other DHHR officials they could not go to court to defend the contract if it was awarded to Fahlgren and challenged by one of the other bidders.
In the suits, Perry and Taylor name Fucillo, Keefer and Rosen and accuse the three of violating the state's laws meant to protect whistleblowers, lawyers and women. Perry and Taylor also accuse Fucillo, Keefer and Rosen of casting them in a false light.
Auvil said Perry and Taylor's job was to protect DHHR and the public.
"And they tried to do that and the result is both of them have been put out - that's not OK," Auvil said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Taylor's review of the marketing contract's scoring found "obvious deficiencies."
Taylor found Dadisman's three-member committee had awarded the contract based on a review that was "inconsistent, arbitrary and deficient and . . . legally indefensible," the suit says.
Taylor warned that the contract award was a "poster child for arbitrary and capricious."
But the warnings were unheeded.
According to the whistleblower suits, Rosen looked at Taylor's analysis in May "and reluctantly agreed that several points . . . were correct." But Rosen said the contract was already awarded so nothing could be done.