Nessel to probe canceled state contract with Dem firm for COVID-19 contact tracing

    Attorney General Dana Nessel, March 5, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

    Attorney General Dana Nessel, in response to Republicans who have sounded the alarm about the state’s since-canceled contract with a Democratic political firm hired to lead Michigan’s COVID-19 contact tracing efforts, has agreed to open an investigation into how the contract was awarded.

    State Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) on Tuesday had requested that Nessel’s office investigate the matter. On Thursday, Nessel, a Democrat, said she agrees that “irrespective of political party,” there is a need for “collective responsibility to ensure accountability and transparency in state government.”

    Jim Runestad

    “I also agree that public confidence is bolstered by openness and honesty in the mechanics of how governmental institutions operate,” Nessel wrote to Runestad.

    The no-bid contract had been awarded to Great Lakes Community Engagement on April 20, but abruptly canceled the next day by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer following complaints that a partisan firm would be collecting and monitoring health data.

    The Democratic consultant-owned campaign outreach company would have used software developed by Every Action VAN, which also has ties to Democrats.

    The contract would have been worth almost $200,000 over the course of two months. Whitmer has since said that the contract should have been approved by the State Emergency Operations Center rather than the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

    The state is currently looking at other options for subcontractors to help the state perform large-scale COVID-19 tracing.

    Nessel’s letter to Runestad notes that once her office’s investigation concludes, the findings will be released to the public.

    Laina G. Stebbins
    Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, civil rights and criminal justice. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or listening to podcasts, she loves art and design, discovering new music, being out in nature and spending time with her two very special cats.