FDA under investigation for faux-bid PR contract

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The FDA may have circumvented government policy by holding a sham bid for a $300,000 PR contract that ultimately went to DC shop Qorvis Communications, The Washington Post reported today.

In July, FDA awarded the contract to Alaska Newspapers Inc. (ANI), a corporation owned by Alaska Native, and eligible for special exemptions from competing for federal work based on “set-asides,” the Post reported. ANI then passed the job to Qorvis, according to the article.

James Dunn, a Qorvis business consultant employed by Red Team Consulting, helped facilitate the deal, according to the article. In an email to a Qorvis executive, Dunn wrote that “ANI will gladly serve as the prime for Qorvis on the FDA deal, knowing that the agency would intend to direct them to you as a subcontractor to perform all the work.” Dunn was familiar with ANI's special privileges regarding government contracts, based on his experience as a chief operating officer for one of Alaska Native's corporations.

Mildred Cooper, hired by the FDA in March following a temporary consultancy position with the agency, had been working on FDA public relations. Cooper had worked with Qorvis in the past, as a public affairs executive for Luna Innovations, and contacted a friend at the agency regarding the contract, according to the Post. Cooper was then put in touch with Don Goldberg, a member of Qorvis's crisis communications practice. Goldberg told the Post that his impression of Cooper was that “she was working closely with the commissioner and chief of staff [at FDA]. My recollection was they wanted to hire Qorvis. It was not appropriate to hire Qorvis directly.”

When presented with the paper's findings, FDA deputy commissioner John Dyer suspended the contract before any money changed hands, and ordered an independent investigation, the article said. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, also announced plans to investigate. “This sham of a contract calls into question the integrity of federal contracts awarded to small businesses and Alaska Native corporations,” said Dingell in the piece.

Representatives of Qorvis and ANI were not immediately available for comment.

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