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From the archives 2021

Tracking Pa.’s pandemic spending, by the numbers

by Jamie Martines of Spotlight PA |

After a slow start, Pennsylvania used the emergency procurement process to hire a consulting firm to help with the state's vaccine rollout.
Fred Adams / For Spotlight PA

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Spotlight PA’s tallying of Pennsylvania’s pandemic-related spending led us to the state’s emergency procurement program — a faster and, critics say, less transparent way for agencies to purchase urgently needed supplies and services.

Not unexpectedly, that spending ballooned in 2020, with state agencies requesting to spend $340 million, up from an annual average of $81 million.

Many requests were straightforward, like bulk orders of masks and gloves. Other requests led to scrutiny from Republican lawmakers, and some requests were downright curious — like one from PennDOT for repairs to a plane used for emergency response that collided with a deer.

The requests alone only tell part of the story. State agencies are not required to produce a written contract for emergency procurement requests. Departments under state law must post purchase orders related to those expenses to the Treasury Department website, though there is no mechanism in state law to ensure that happens.

Even with those documents in hand, it’s not always clear whether the work was completed, or how much a contractor was paid. Sometimes, the cost is higher or lower than the original estimate. In some cases reviewed by Spotlight PA, the purchase never happened at all.

These requests also don’t represent the totality of state agencies’ spending in recent months — grants and other procurement processes were also used.

But they do shed light on how the administration responded to the pandemic and what was prioritized. Here are the highlights of what we found via a public records request.

Most expensive pandemic-related requests:

  • $40 million by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to hire AMI to provide community vaccination clinics

  • $28.5 million by the Department of Health to hire Curative to administer COVID-19 tests in long-term care facilities

  • $25 million by the Department of Health to hire Insight Global to administer the contact tracing program

  • $13 million by the Department of Labor and Industry to hire Ernst & Young to assist with unemployment claims

  • $11.6 million by the Department of Health to hire consulting firm BCG to advise on the vaccine rollout

Most expensive requests not related to pandemic response:

  • $12.5 million by the Department of General Services to extend an existing contract with Meggitt Training Systems, which provides weapons training to law enforcement

  • $11 million to extend a contract with McKesson while a new pharmaceutical procurement is finished

  • $6 million by the Department of General Services to hire Inservco to administer insurance benefit claims

  • $4 million by the Department of Transportation for motorcycle training providers

  • $3.8 million by the Department of Education to hire University of Kansas Center for Research to develop state tests

Other notable requests:

  • $1.2 million by the State Department for two orders of “sneeze guards” in August and September to be used by county election workers during the pandemic

  • $358,437 by the Department of Transportation to hire Textron Aviation to repair a plane damaged after it collided with a deer while taxiing at Chester County airport

  • $207,731 by the Game Commission to print the annual Hunting and Trapping Digest using Liberty Press

  • $81,264 by the Office of Attorney General to purchase “pole cameras” from Crime Point, Inc. to be used for surveillance during investigations

Agencies that made the most requests:

  • Emergency Management (89)

  • General Services (75)

  • Human Services (74)

  • Corrections (63)

  • Health (46)

Agencies with the highest estimated costs for requests:

  • Health: $104,362,681

  • Emergency Management: $100,354,737

  • General Services: $70,235,224

  • Human Services: $50,020,692

  • Transportation: $30,731,414

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