Houston contract under fire

Councilman claims RFP process for $9.5 million SimHouston project was "a sham"

A $9.5 million software contract Houston awarded to Internet Access Technologies Inc. (IAT) is under investigation because the request for proposal process appears to have been "rigged," said Bruce Tatro, a Houston city councilman.

Tatro said that Denny Piper, the former Houston chief information officer, planned on using IAT's SimHouston software services weeks before the bidding deadline of Dec. 7, 2001. "The whole RFP process was a sham," Tatro said.

Tatro claims that the RFP process was significantly tailored in that "it was written in a way where only one company could respond," he said. IAT was the only company to place a bid.

According to Tatro, Piper was like a "kid in a candy store that wanted to do all these neat [information technology] things, disregarding necessary procedures."

Ray Davis, chief technology officer and founder of IAT, denied allegations of an unfair contract deal. "The bid process was done impeccably," he said. "No one else has this product, so you're not going to get another bid."

As for Tatro's comments regarding Piper, Davis said, Tatro "is looking to get his name in the press because he is running for city controller in the next election." He also stated that Tatro has no credible proof that IAT was involved in any wrongdoing.

Tatro responded by saying that a marketing plan for the project speaks for itself.

A third draft of a marketing roll-out plan, developed by Austin, Texas-based marketing and public relations firm Weeks & Co., was completed Nov. 14, three weeks before the proposal deadline. Tatro said that the marketing plan contained mock press releases naming IAT as the projected winner of the contract.

"On January XX, IAT procured the RFP (Request for Proposal) from the city of Houston, beating out XX, XX, XX number of companies. (Will insert this information once procured)," reads one draft document found in the plan.

According to Weeks officials, the information came from "background material" contained within the marketing plan. Its intent was to provide information to Piper, the mayor and other city officials about how the program came to be, and was not intended for public viewing. The firm also denied drafting any press materials before January.

Also in relation to the marketing plan, a July 10 Houston Chronicle article reported that "Documents show that [Piper] spent $42,000 of city money on a detailed plan to market [IAT] more than a month before the deadline for it and other companies to submit their proposals."

Weeks representatives said that the information in the article is inaccurate because the $42,000 was spent on projects within "the scope of work," of which the citywide marketing rollout of SimHouston was a part. The money was not solely for the creation of the marketing plan, they said.

Despite repeated attempts, Piper could not be reached for comment for this report. He resigned as Houston CIO a week after city council members in June voted 8-7 to award the five-year, $9.5 million contract to IAT.

The city's Office of Inspector General and the Harris County District Attorney's Governmental Affairs Bureau are investigating the contract proceedings and whether the city broke any laws.

As of last week, Mayor Lee Brown and several other council members said they would continue to support the SimHouston program because it is beneficial to the citizens of Houston.

In the SimHouston project, IAT will provide the city its SimDesk and SimMedia software to enable Houston city employees and residents — potentially 3 million users — to download and use the company's software for free to create, edit and store documents online. Users would access the information using library cards from any Internet-ready location.

NEXT STORY: Agencies mark progress

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