Little’s education aide joins private firm — which received a $3.5 million no-bid contract

Originally published on IdahoEdNews.org on February 15, 2022

Greg Wilson, Governor Brad Little’s head of education, worked in the summer of 2021 on a multifaceted K-12 student data management project.

He has partnered with several potential vendors, including SAS Institute Inc., a data analytics company in Kerry, NC.

In October, SAS signed a $ 3.5 million contract with the state – a contract without a rate. The state administrative department, Idaho’s procurement division, agreed to a request from the State Board of Education to expedite the process and consider only the SAS.

In December, Wilson agreed to work at SAS.

Little’s office said they had no idea Wilson had applied for a job outside until he applied. And Wilson’s move from the governor’s office to the SAS was legal, as Idaho has no “back door” laws against government officials.

The state council defended the contract without a proposal, saying it aimed to speed up a “data panel” to allow Idaho residents to assess student performance, analyze learning losses from a pandemic, and provide a platform to help teachers predict how their students will be. do in the future. The normal bidding process is designed to encourage competition in the private sector, but it may take months to contract. The Council of State wanted to speed up the process – and it believed the SAS could launch the first phase of data visualization by January 1st.

However, this public panel still does not work.

To investigate the $ 3.5 million project – and Wilson’s role in the process – Idaho Education News reviewed the SAS contract, the State Council’s bid with the State Department to bypass the competitive bidding process, and internal and external emails from Little’s office. Idaho Education News has requested additional emails for State Council staff and the Little Office.

The process began nearly a year ago, during the longest-running legislative session in state history.

Spring 2021: origins of the project

A year after the pandemic, Little’s office, the State Council and the State Department of Education agreed on the need to better address the issue of loss of learning. But council members were disappointed, Little spokeswoman Marissa Morrison Haier said in response to written questions from Idaho Education News. As the 2021 legislative session stretched into spring, lawmakers spent most of their time focusing on issues such as critical race theory rather than student performance.

The Council of State, a policy-making body for K-12 and higher education, which consists mainly of governors, expressed interest in the K-12 data panel in May.

And in May, the money became available: another round of federal funding for coronavirus education. Little received a contribution from the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund or the GEER Foundation, part of the federal coronavirus aid that governors can spend at their discretion.

The money arrived on time: the state had to sign any contracts for GEER money by January 2022.

Summer 2021: the project takes shape

By the end of July, the State Council had convened a working group to find out what the dashboard should look like.

Wilson consulted with the State Council working group and helped develop dashboard specifications. In July and August, Haier said, Wilson “contacted” SAS, BrightBytes of Atlanta and “potentially other vendors” on the project.

By the end of the summer, the Council of State had assembled a small group to consider three proposals: from SAS, BrightBytes, and from Silverback Learning Solutions based on Meridian (now known as EdPower). No one from Little’s office was on the team, including Wilson.

Little had no contact with the Council of State working group or potential suppliers, Haier said. And she said he had no role in the decision to sign the contract.

September-October 2021: contract without offer

On September 8, when schools reopened and the delta option sparked another pandemic outbreak, the State Council tried to speed up the data project. The council asked the State Department of Administration for permission to bypass the normal bidding process.

“Due to the latest wave of COVID cases in Idaho and persistent disruptions in student learning for the fourth semester in a row, it is even more important that we focus on the use of funds (federal aid in coronavirus education) and be able to change strategies based on the effectiveness of these uses. “- wrote the Chief Financial Officer of the Council of State Todd Kilburn in a request to the Administrative Department.

A one-page request recommended SAS for a contract for $ 3,482,946.

State Council officials have determined that SAS can provide the most reliable data analysis at the best price, spokesman Mike Keckler said. And in a request for a contract without an offer, Kilburn said that SAS “can complete the first phase of the visualization project by January 1, 2022.”

Herr said Little did not participate in drafting a request to the Department of Administration for a contract without bidding.

State Council Executive Director Matt Freeman signed the contract on October 8; SAS Licensing Director Victoria Clayton followed suit on 13 October.

In the first year of the three-year contract, SAS agreed to provide three main components:

  • A public dashboard designed to provide multi-year data at the state, district and school levels. The dashboard should cover a variety of indicators, including Idaho Reading Indicator Scores and Idaho Standards Achievement Test; indicators of high school and college graduates; and financial data such as cost per student.
  • An analysis of student growth and what the contract calls “unfinished learning”. In the contract, SAS offered to analyze the results by years, subjects and grades; student demographics; and access to full-time or distance learning in 2020-21.
  • An internal portal designed to help teachers measure student growth and design the future.

This is the most costly phase of the three-year contract, which is nearly $ 1.5 million.

In two and three years, SAS agrees to maintain and upgrade the dashboard, as well as provide “project management” – supporting work up to 250 hours per year, which costs close to $ 1 million per year.

December 2021: Wilson leaves

Wilson said he applied for a job at SAS in mid-November when he saw an announcement of a vacancy for head of government analytics. SAS was looking for someone who could sell its products to government agencies in the Rocky Mountains region – someone with eight years of experience in state or local government, and someone with “current contacts” in the Idaho or Colorado government.

Wilson filed the application. But Haier said the governor’s office had no idea that Wilson was looking for a new job until Dec. 10. It was then that Wilson conveyed his e-mail to Zach Hauga, Chief of Staff Little.

“In all, I worked for the governor for eight years,” Wilson wrote. “This decision was not easy. Knowing that a lot of work remained unfinished and that the governor had a lot to achieve for Idaho and its citizens lay on my head. However, I look forward to what the governor and his team can achieve in the near future, and will be ready to help everyone I can. ”

In the email, Wilson referred to his new job at SAS, but did not mention the contract with the data.

In an email dated December 13, Hauge congratulated and added: “We will need to gather staff to celebrate the ‘happy hour’. But then Hauge set the ground rules for the transition.

“In the future, please do not talk to the Council (State Council) or staff on issues related to SAS, in particular, any items that could lead to the conclusion of a government contract under which SAS may participate in the tender,” he wrote. . “The governor is adamant about transparency, so please forward any emails you receive from SAS, or issues related to SAS, I will be the contact point on these issues until your replacement is selected.”

That same day, Little’s legal counsel, Brady Hall, sent a letter to Susan Carr, an SAS attorney. In his LinkedIn profile, Carr calls himself the company’s director of ethics and compliance.

“The governor’s office has notified the State Board of Education and taken appropriate steps to ensure that Greg is barred from any formal issues related to SAS projects or any future contracts that SAS may wish to bid for,” Hall wrote.

Carr replied a day later. “I confirm that for the remainder of Greg Wilson’s time in Idaho and in the SAS Gov.’s office, there will be no communication with Greg regarding the recently signed agreement with the Idaho Board of Education or any promising agreements with the Idaho Board of Education. ”

In a written response to Idaho Education News, Wilson said he will work for SAS in six states, and much of his work is in Colorado.

“I am not working on any educational initiatives for SAS, including the K-12 data panel project in Idaho,” he said. “I am pleased to expand my experience in a variety of policy areas, including natural resources, transport, criminal justice and public safety, health and fraud prevention.”

The new job, he said, “was too good to be abandoned by my young family and became the next chapter in my career.”

Wilson’s last day at Little’s headquarters was January 3rd.

December 2021: second opinion

Little’s legal staff consulted with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office about Wilson.

Wasden’s office found no evidence of wrongdoing. The state does not have a “revolving door” law that would prevent civil servants from going into the private sector. The law prohibits civil servants from using confidential information for personal financial gain. “The governor’s office seems to have taken steps to prevent this, and our office is not aware of any behavior that would indicate otherwise,” Wasden spokesman Scott Graf said Monday.

The Earl pointed to another degree of separation – the contract was signed by the Council of State, not Little’s office. However, seven of the eight members of the State Council are gubernatorial commissioners.

February 2022: project status

The Council of State and Little’s office say a non-bidding contract was needed to speed up the data project.

Due to staffing and staff shortages, the normal bidding process would take at least six months, Herr said.

But despite Kilburn’s written assurances in September to the Department of Administration, SAS did not launch its data panel in Idaho until January 1. The project is still not running.

Delays in data transfer have caused a slowdown, Keckler said last week. And after the state bypassed the bidding, contract negotiations took longer than expected.

“Board officials will review the prototype over the next few weeks, and we expect the public dashboard to be online by the end (February),” Keckler said.

Disclosure: BrightBytes is an Idaho education news provider; the company provides support for the EdTrends project from EdNews.

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