County supervisors once again balked this week on approving a $250,000 bonus for a computer contractor, ACS State and Local Solutions, which has come under intense criticism in recent years.
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Janet Nguyen delayed action on the bonus this week saying that an undisclosed agency had called Tuesday morning seeking more information on the ACS bonus.
Questions from this mystery agency means the issue will be pushed at least to the Dec. 14 meeting.
But that didn’t stop one supervisor from asking his own hard questions.
Despite visibly irritating Supervisor John Moorlach — who, along with Supervisor Bill Campbell and Pat Bates, supports bonus provisions in contracts — Supervisor Shawn Nelson asked pointedly about how the specific bonus for ACS was calculated.
County Chief Executive Tom Mauk took issue with all the questions, saying opposition to the contract was primarily coming from the Orange County Employees Association and “blogs.”
“I believe the county has to abide by its contract,” Mauk said. He added: “This has to do with OCEA and the blogs.” Mauk called the concerns “nonsense.”
Mauk then launched into a defense of ACS, which he admitted had come under serious questioning in recent years. But, he said, the contractor’s operations have improved.
Nelson’s questions signaled concerns about how such bonuses are structured. In essence, he challenged county staffers to prove that they didn’t just give $250,000 of taxpayer funds to a company without holding their feet to the contract language and forcing them to earn it.
Nelson also pointed out that only 97 out of 19,000 county employees responded to surveys on ACS work. He wondered whether it was a valid sample.
“How would we gauge any of this information, absent knowing what the criteria is?” he said.
Meanwhile, Moorlach, Campbell and Bates defended the nature of the contract.
“I like incentive contracts,” Campbell said. “I don’t think they’re exclusive in the private sector at all. It’s very good to motivate people to perform in certain areas,” Campbell said.
“It gets better performance for us and the taxpayers,” he said.
However, a county staffer said they are antiquated in the IT industry, especially in the public sector where there is much more competition than when the county first contracted with ACS in 2000.
Modern IT contracts, the staff said, are set up with penalties for failing to meet negotiated standards, as opposed to getting bonuses for doing what was promised.