A panel of auditors for the Utah Legislature has found that at least two of the contracts state agencies executed in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic should have received closer examination by relevant state entities to avoid pitfalls and overspending. The subject contracts “would have benefitted from better communication, collaboration and direction if all relevant state entities were included in decisions,” the auditors’ report said. The report cited poor communication between state departments and a lack of collaboration with health officials as compounding factors in the issues with the multimillion-dollar expenditures with two technology companies.
The legislative auditors found that state agencies allocated more than $97 million in emergency spending from March through July and that the majority of the contracts showed few significant concerns. However, a more than $4 million contract with Twenty Labs for the Healthy Together app and a $9.6 million contract with Nomi Utah for the TestUtah initiative raised questions.
“What we found is there was really a need for greater collaboration,” Kade Minchey, legislative auditor general, told members of the Legislative Audit Subcommittee. “We understand there was a lot going on during that time, but we still feel like for those contracts in particular, if there had been collaboration with the entities at play there, there could have been some opportunities to avoid some pitfalls.”
The contract with Twenty Labs to develop the Healthy Together app was intended to assist with COVID-19 contact tracing and other tasks but has not been successfully used by state health officials. The tracking feature has been turned off due to privacy concerns. To date, the state has paid over $4 million for the app and continues to pay an ongoing $300,000 monthly maintenance fee.
Auditors also found that Utah Department of Health officials were not included in contract negotiations with Nomi Utah and the TestUtah initiative, which included $2 million for the creation of TestUtah.com, $3 million for the first month of five drive-through testing locations and lab services, and an additional $600,000 a month for each active testing location.
Despite the concerns, the auditors concluded that the contracts with Twenty and Nomi did not violate state emergency procurement statutes. Meanwhile, Utah State Auditor John Dougall is conducting a thorough audit of COVID-19 emergency spending by state agencies.