January 3, 2005
Madison - A lawsuit was filed December 23 on behalf of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s director and other plaintiffs seeking cancellation of the state’s controversial $14 million contract with the global consulting firm Accenture to create and maintain a statewide voter registration system.
The lawsuit argues that when state Elections Board director Kevin Kennedy signed the contract November 12, he did so without legal authority. The Elections Board never approved the contract, and did not even vote to authorize a Request for Proposals soliciting bids from private vendors.
The lawsuit also suggests that Elections Board staff withheld information about the status of the contract when briefing board members. Accenture was chosen in mid-October and a letter of intent was issued on October 15 awarding the contract to the company. But a report presented to the board October 20 said that the procurement process was proceeding and that a final vendor had not yet been selected.
In early December, the Democracy Campaign asked Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager to investigate whether the contract was signed in violation of open government laws. The attorney general’s office notified WDC on December 13 that an investigation was being launched.
The Democracy Campaign has been highly critical of the state Elections Board’s decision to outsource work on the development of a statewide voter registration system to a scandal-wracked private company whose parent company is based in Bermuda to avoid paying U.S. taxes. Accenture was formerly known as Andersen Consulting, part of Arthur Andersen of Enron fame, and as a contractor in Florida had a hand in the infamous felon purge from that state’s voter registration list before the 2004 election.
Wisconsin’s privatization deal with Accenture has drawn fire for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that state information technology specialists and private voter list experts claim the work could be done at a fraction of the contract’s $13.9 million pricetag.
The Elections Board’s contract with Accenture is part of a larger trend toward outsourcing government work even when privatization ends up costing taxpayers more for the government services. Governor Jim Doyle made a campaign promise to eliminate 10,000 state jobs, scaling back the size of the state workforce to 1986 levels.
In August, the Democracy Campaign called attention to a contract paying a private company whose top executives made big campaign donations to the governor nearly $80 an hour to maintain a road sign inventory that had been kept by a temporary state employee earning just over $11 hourly.
Now that same company has been given a $685,000 no-bid contract to build and maintain a Web site about a Milwaukee-area highway construction project. Several Web developers in the state say they could have created the site for half the cost or less, but were never given a chance to submit a bid for the work.