“Due to the number of contracts and purchase orders meeting your demand, it would be significantly disruptive for the agency’s operations to collect each individual contract or purchase order, identify the specific source of funding and examine for any redactions required prior to production, ”the state health department said in response to the AP’s request.
Failure to provide full transparency on COVID-19 purchases leaves unanswered how much money states have spent on needed items which have rapidly skyrocketed in price and the extent to which they have turned to suppliers untested at a time when the federal government largely left these purchases to the states.
Cameron Macdonald, executive director of the Government Justice Center, said the data could also shed light on questions surrounding the state’s stockpile of protective equipment and medical supplies before the pandemic.
“Nobody knows how long it has expired, how much they caught up in the spring,” he said.
By the end of March, several states had suspended the usual guarantees for awarding contracts amid fierce competition among states, counties, hospitals and even other countries for ventilators and equipment intended for protect frontline medical workers.
Cuomo promised companies that could help make protective gear for New York City that they wouldn’t face “red tape.” He sent staff to China as part of efforts to procure 7,000 ventilators, but warned the state still needed federal help: “We’ve tried everything.”
Some specific purchases have been publicly confirmed by the Cuomo administration to the media. These include $ 122 million in payments to Brooklyn-based Dome International for the expected 5,700 ventilators and $ 69 million to Silicon Valley businessman Yaron Oren Pines.
But few details of these purchases have been released. Cuomo associates said the state was trying to recover some or all of the payments made to companies that were not producing the promised gear.
“While the vast majority of goods have been received, there have been a few instances where the items ordered have not been delivered in whole or in part,” said Heather Groll, spokesperson for the General Service Office.
About $ 223 million has been recovered so far, she said in a written statement.
She declined to say which orders were missed and how much money the state is trying to recover, saying it “does not want to compromise its negotiating ability by providing details.”
The AP searched for purchase orders that included the name and address of suppliers, date, description of items purchased, quantity of items purchased, and price.
The Government Records Council of New Jersey, which oversees the state’s public records law, “requires that custodians usually grant immediate access to budgets, invoices, vouchers, contracts. (New Jersey designates purchase orders as coupons.)
“It is deeply troubling that they deny access to payment vouchers, which are quintessential public registers that help people monitor how taxpayer money is spent,” said CJ Griffin, an attorney for the New Jersey specializes in public records law.