TeleTracking Technologies Awarded Coronavirus Data Contract in Irregular Process : NPR


An NPR investigation has recognized uncommon selections across the course of that result in a Pittsburgh firm profitable a contract to collect COVID-19 information as an alternative of the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention.

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An NPR investigation has recognized uncommon selections across the course of that result in a Pittsburgh firm profitable a contract to collect COVID-19 information as an alternative of the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention.

smartboy10/Digital Imaginative and prescient Vectors/Getty Pictures

An NPR investigation has discovered irregularities within the course of by which the Trump administration awarded a multi-million greenback contract to a Pittsburgh firm to gather key information about COVID-19 from the nation’s hospitals.

The contract is on the heart of an argument over the administration’s determination to maneuver that information reporting operate from the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention — which has tracked an infection info for a variety of diseases for years — to the Division of Well being and Human Providers.

TeleTracking Applied sciences, the corporate that received the contract, has historically centered on creating software program for hospitals to trace affected person standing. And there are questions on the way it got here to be liable for gathering information within the midst of a pandemic.

Among the many findings of the NPR investigation:

  • The Division of Well being and Human Providers initially characterised the contract with TeleTracking as a no-bid contract. When requested about that, HHS stated there was a “coding error” and that the contract was really competitively bid.
  • The method by which HHS awarded the contract is often used for progressive scientific analysis, not the constructing of presidency databases.
  • HHS had immediately phoned the corporate in regards to the contract, in accordance with an organization spokesperson.  
  • TeleTracking CEO Michael Zamagias had hyperlinks to the New York actual property world — and specifically, a agency that financed billions of {dollars} in tasks with the Trump Group.

An abrupt change throughout the pandemic

When the Division of Well being and Human Providers, which oversees the CDC, despatched out a directive to the nation’s hospitals in April asserting it will be utilizing TeleTracking as an possibility to gather COVID information, Carrie Kroll did not give it a second thought.

It simply appeared like another kind hospitals may have to fill out.

Kroll is with the Texas Hospital Affiliation, and balked solely after the HHS abruptly introduced in July that hospitals might now not report COVID information by way of the CDC, however would as an alternative be required to take action by way of the HHS-TeleTracking system or their state well being departments.

That is the kind of information that has been carefully watched because the outbreak of the pandemic: from beds, to private protecting tools (PPE), to detailed demographic info on suspected and confirmed COVID sufferers.

“Up till the change, we have been reporting about 70 parts and we’re now at 129,” Kroll stated, scrolling by way of a five-page listing of the knowledge now required. “I imply, clearly we’re in the midst of a pandemic, proper? I imply this is not the kind of stuff you attempt to do in the midst of a pandemic.”

Hospitals have been solely given days to start out sending all this info to TeleTracking. The HHS defined the sudden change by claiming the brand new database would streamline info gathering and assist in the allocation of therapeutic prescription drugs like remdesivir.

However 1000’s of hospitals had used the CDC system for years to report an infection management information. So it raised questions: Why the change? Why now?

The CDC has been monitoring these numbers for some 15 years. And whereas its system is not excellent — it requires all the knowledge to be entered manually, for instance — it’s unclear why the federal government, already underwater with the unfold of COVID, did not determine as an alternative to tinker with the prevailing system.

Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director, stated the reason HHS selected TeleTracking was as a result of it offered “speedy methods to replace the kind of information that we’re amassing” and that it “reduces the reporting burden,” none of which, given the duplication of Kroll’s expertise across the nation, appears to be occurring.

The TeleTracking software program, for instance, requires all the information to be keyed in manually, similar to the CDC as soon as did.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, proper, listens as President Trump speaks throughout a tour of the CDC in Atlanta on March 6, 2020.

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CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, proper, listens as President Trump speaks throughout a tour of the CDC in Atlanta on March 6, 2020.

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An HHS spokesperson stated that the COVID response required that they transfer rapidly to implement a brand new system, “even when extra time may be desired. We acknowledge that hospitals weren’t given vital lead time to organize for these modifications.”

TeleTracking’s ties to Trump Group financiers

The CEO of the corporate, Michael Zamagias, got here from the true property sector. He based Zamagias Properties, an actual property funding and improvement firm, in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1987.

The corporate went on to develop iconic workplace buildings, buying facilities and malls in Pittsburgh and Virginia, and its success helped Zamagias grow to be a fixture outdoors Pittsburgh and, specifically, within the New York actual property scene.

Zamagias is a longtime Republican donor and neighborhood philanthropist, giving generously to Pittsburgh faculties and youth packages.

One of many younger individuals who got here to Zamagias for recommendation and counsel was a New Yorker named Neal Cooper, although he was hardly new to enterprise or actual property. Zamagias grew to become the younger Cooper’s mentor. He gave Cooper an internship.

Neal’s father, Howard, was the named associate in a Manhattan firm referred to as Cooper-Horowitz, one of many largest privately held actual property debt and fairness companies within the nation.

“Cooper did enterprise with Michael within the late 1980s,” Neal Cooper instructed NPR, referring to his dad’s firm. “I do not know if we ever did massive offers with him, however we ran in the identical circles. I discovered quite a bit from Michael. He was at all times one or two steps forward of the following man.”

Cooper-Horowitz handles debt and fairness in all lessons of actual property and specializes within the hospitality business.

And in that vein, it did billions of {dollars} of labor with the Trump Group on tasks just like the Trump Worldwide Resort & Tower in Chicago.

“I did not deal with Trump’s account, however I have been in conferences with Trump,” Cooper stated. “We did tons of enterprise with him, billions of {dollars} of enterprise.”

And there are different strategies of an in depth relationship between Cooper-Horowitz and the Trumps.

Ivanka Trump has attended a fairly well-known vacation celebration the corporate holds in New York yearly. The agency has given to the Trump Basis. And Richard Horowitz, one of many firm’s principals, is credited with serving to join the Trump Group with Deutsche Financial institution, the German financial institution that has financed over $2 billion in Trump tasks over the previous twenty years.

President Trump, Well being And Human Providers Secretary Alex Azar and Ivanka Trump stroll collectively on the South Garden of the White Home on Might 30, 2018.

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President Trump, Well being And Human Providers Secretary Alex Azar and Ivanka Trump stroll collectively on the South Garden of the White Home on Might 30, 2018.

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There is no proof that these skilled relationships are why Zamagias and TeleTracking acquired the multi-million greenback contract. By way of a spokesperson Zamagias stated that he hadn’t talked to anybody at Cooper-Horowitz in years, and all his firm’s contact with the administration got here by way of HHS.

However congressional investigators are actually keen to search out out if that relationship in some way performed a task.

The White Home didn’t reply to questions on whether or not it was concerned within the awarding of the TeleTracking contract, or whether or not White Home workers had any relationship with Zamagias.

An uncommon contracting course of results in multi-million greenback TeleTracking deal

Initially, there was confusion about the best way HHS awarded the contract to TeleTracking. Public information initially displayed it as a sole-source contract — basically a no-bid deal.

However after a Senate inquiry and controversy over the obligatory shift to the TeleTracking system, HHS stated that there had been a “coding error” and that it had actually been awarded after a aggressive course of.

“The TeleTracking contract was a part of a aggressive solicitation course of and was not sole supply,” an HHS spokesperson stated. “One of many web sites that tracks federal spending contained an error that incorrectly categorized the award as sole supply. That coding error is being corrected.”

That aggressive course of, HHS stated, is called a Broad Company Announcement.

BAAs are basically call-outs to non-public business to supply progressive options to basic issues wherein a easy simple resolution might not be accessible — it is not meant for one thing like a authorities database that replaces an present CDC operate.

A regular authorities contract would often lay out a collection of particular necessities or specs. Not so with BAAs. By their very nature, they’re much less aggressive than different kinds of authorities contracting processes as a result of they might generate an array of options that will not essentially be comparable.

In an announcement, an HHS spokesperson stated that the BAA is a “widespread mechanism… for areas of analysis curiosity,” and asserted that the healthcare system capability monitoring system beforehand utilized by the CDC was “fraught with challenges.”

HHS has stated that six corporations bid for the contract however declines to say who they have been or launch the evaluations that the division would have carried out earlier than awarding the contract to TeleTracking.

The U.S. Division of Well being and Human Providers constructing is proven in Washington, D.C. on July 21, 2007.

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The U.S. Division of Well being and Human Providers constructing is proven in Washington, D.C. on July 21, 2007.

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“Federal acquisition laws and statutes prohibit us from offering details about different submissions,” an HHS spokesperson stated. The spokesperson added that the BAA was launched in August 2019, and that the company promoted it on social media, in newsletters, and in emails.

However NPR reached out to greater than 20 of TeleTracking’s rivals within the fields of hospital workflow administration and an infection management information and was unable to discover a single firm that stated it had bid on this contract.

One main firm instructed NPR that it hadn’t even heard in regards to the HHS announcement.

There may be one other wrinkle right here. A spokesperson for Zamagias instructed NPR that HHS reached out to the corporate immediately — by cellphone — as a result of it knew the corporate from its hurricane and catastrophe preparedness work.

It’s unclear when that cellphone name was made.

Congressional investigators probe HHS and TeleTracking

The entire course of by which TeleTracking acquired the contract strikes Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel at Residents for Accountability and Ethics in Washington, as out of the abnormal.

It is not simply the usage of the BAA. It’s that HHS “now requires 6,000 hospitals to enter this information” in what appears to be like like proprietary software program, which the federal authorities might have to pay for sooner or later, Canter stated the present contract ends in September. The Zamagias spokesperson instructed NPR that TeleTracking hopes for a contract extension — and that doubtlessly means thousands and thousands of {dollars} extra sooner or later.

“We do anticipate needing to proceed this contract,” an HHS spokesperson stated.

Congress can also be wanting into irregularities within the contract course of and the choice to shift the information gathering from CDC to HHS. Sen. Patty Murray, a outstanding Democrat on well being care, first raised questions in regards to the HHS contract in early June.

Home Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., has launched an investigation into TeleTracking and its CEO. He and the oversight committee he chairs need to higher perceive how the corporate landed a $10.2 million contract to construct a COVID-19 database.

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Home Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., has launched an investigation into TeleTracking and its CEO. He and the oversight committee he chairs need to higher perceive how the corporate landed a $10.2 million contract to construct a COVID-19 database.

Drew Angerer/Getty Pictures

And Rep. James Clyburn, who chairs a congressional subcommittee overseeing the coronavirus disaster, and Home Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney are each demanding solutions about what occurred.

Whereas the inquiries have been initially centered on HHS, Clyburn despatched a letter to Zamagias Tuesday asking for info on the contracts, emails and communication exchanged with HHS in a bid to grasp how TeleTracking got here to land the $10.2 million six-month contract in the midst of a pandemic.

“Your organization has beforehand been awarded a handful of small contracts with the Division of Veteran’s Affairs, however your contract with HHS is sort of twenty instances bigger than your entire earlier federal contracts mixed,” Clyburn wrote in his letter to Zamagias.

NPR’s Barbara Van Woerkom contributed reporting to this story.



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