The city has spent an estimated $2 billion on helping newly arrived asylum seekers.
Now, City Council members want to understand how the city spent so much — especially as a $432-million contract to the DocGo company is being scrutinized by the city comptroller. The State Attorney General is also investigating the company.
In a hearing on Thursday, local lawmakers pressed administration officials on the city’s emergency contract process amid the crisis.
“On the laundry for DHS, it’s 99-cents a pound, but for the contract that you have, it’s $3 a pound. ‘How do we explain that to the public?,’” Gale Brewer said.
Officials pushed back against the idea they are spending too much.
“Just because it says $3 per pound doesn’t mean you’re actually paying $3 per pound. It could mean you’re paying up to $3 a pound. The Garner contract was not an emergency procurement, it was a citywide contract that was competitively bid ahead of this emergency,” Commissioner of Emergency Management Zach Iscol said.
Administration officials argued that most of the contracts have been competitive and have been largely with vendors who already have business with the city.
“We’re still obtaining prior approval from the law department and the comptroller. We’re still going through a robust vendor selection process; we’re still getting final approval from those affirmation parties,” added Iscol in defending the city’s procurement process.
Last June, the city was given blanket approval to enter into emergency contracts amid the start of the influx of migrants.
Under that emergency, the city doesn’t have to go through the normal channels of oversight for contracts that can take years to finalize.
City officials insisted that the emergency contracts go through a rigorous process.
“There are certainly things that are excluded from the process such as a public hearing,” Charles Diamond, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, said. “An emergency contract allows an agency and a contract to be effective earlier in the process. Although the process is occurring, it allows work to start earlier.”
Council members wonder when the city will stop functioning under emergency status.
“And we know that we will continue to renew these hotel contracts. Is it still unforeseeable for you?,” asked City Council member Julie Won.
Officials say they’ve entered into 200 contracts, many with vendors already contracted with the city for things like laundry and security.
Comptroller Brad Lander pushed back against the city’s characterization of their emergency contract process.
“I have some concerns that they are using that blanket prior approval as a blank check,” said Lander ahead of his testimony.
He explained the type of emergency approval City Hall got last year.
“When they asked for prior approval, what we are doing is saying is this an appropriate emergency condition that requires the city to suspend its normal contracting procedure.”
Lander went on to say that the DocGo contract is the only emergency contract out of more than 70, his office flagged for non-approval.
Under emergency procurement, the mayor has the right to enter into agreements over the objections of the comptroller.