Contract pause

UPDATED: 8/24/23 @ 11:00 a.m. to add a reference to eVA, the Commonwealth’s online procurement system.

Hey, kids! Are you interested in the contracts your government is entering into for goods and services?

Do you want to know how much they’re spending, whether the company is reputable, and whether the other side might be the boss’ nephew?

Would you like to eyeball for yourself the terms your government’s agreed to, what performance metrics they’ve demanded from the other side, or who has to pay what if the contract is canceled early?

Were you expecting to be able to browse federal contracts, grants and MOUs easily and for free, like you can on, or the many state contracts and agency purchases on eVA?

Well, good luck with that. Because here’s what it’s going to cost you at this Virginia agency.

Yep. This was the cost estimate to have two contracts delivered under a FOIA request. Not old, archived contracts, mind you, but the “latest” contract, the “current” vendor. 

Maybe it costs so much because these contracts need to be reviewed to redact sensitive, exempt information? But beyond perhaps some financial account information or possibly some proprietary information, just how sensitive can a contract with a mailing vendor be?

Virginia is one of only nine states that allows both copying fees and unchecked hourly labor charges. The other 41 states and D.C. either don’t allow labor charges at all or else cap it in some way, whether by hourly or total amount. Some don’t allow charges for the time taken to review for exemptions or for the time taken to redact records.

The only limitation in Virginia is that charges — which are discretionary, mind you — reflect the “actual cost” and that that cost be “reasonable.” But it’s kinda hard to tell if $134.50 really reflects the actual cost or whether that amount is reasonable if there’s no itemized breakdown to show how long it took or what hourly rate was charged.

And here’s where the optics kick in. By charging $134.50 (more than a pair of Apple AirPods) to produce one, single contemporary contract, the agency looks inefficient, at best, but at worst: unhelpful, secretive, ham-handed, greedy, inept. 

Personally, I'm unable to purchase multiple sets of AirPods, and certainly not willing to spend $134.50 for every contract I intend to access. Everyone should be deeply concerned with how such cost estimates push government accountability beyond the means of the citizens on whose behalf these contracts are agreed to.

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