CYFD to open bids for tech upgrade - Albuquerque Journal

CYFD to open bids for tech upgrade

The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, which has this office in Albuquerque, is being criticized in a newly filed federal lawsuit filed by a group that includes child advocates and their attorneys.
The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department plans to publish a request for proposals for a multimillion-dollar modernization of its information system by early next year. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The state Children, Youth and Families Department has given up its controversial plans to sole source a multimillion-dollar modernization of its child welfare information system and now favors an open bid process.

The decision to begin a competitive bid process comes two months after the departure of former CYFD Cabinet Secretary Brian Blalock, who as far back as 2019 pushed his agency to give the work to a California software company without seeking proposals from other vendors.

Blalock, who had been under fire, resigned in early August citing personal reasons. He was replaced earlier this month by retired state Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil.

“Through ongoing evaluation and analysis of the needs of CYFD, the department has determined the best option forward for a (Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System) solution is to evaluate additional options through a competitive process so that we identify the best solution for our state,” agency spokesman Charlie Moore-Pabst said in an email. A timeline is still being determined, but CYFD plans to publish a request for proposals by early 2022.

Binti Inc. of Oakland, California, currently has a $440,000 annual contract for software covering two aspects of the overall project – matching foster/adoptive families with children and licensing potential foster/adoptive parents.

But state records show CYFD and the state Department of Information Technology had signed off on a draft contract to pay Binti $17 million to modernize CYFD’s entire 24-year-old child welfare data system.

Around the country, such case management information systems help child welfare staff make decisions and track children in foster care, foster families, placements and child abuse investigations. The technology upgrade is also key to meeting federal reporting requirements.

Two Binti software modules were “deployed statewide in December 2020 and the remaining four Binti modules will be deployed statewide in October 2022,” according to an independent assessment of the project released in early September.

But the project was considered “high risk” in part because there had been no final state approval of the pending Binti contract, according to the assessment by CSG Government Solutions Inc., which was hired by CYFD to oversee the project’s “health.” The state Legislative Finance Committee staff also considered the project “high risk.”

Felicia Curcuru, CEO of Binti, told the Journal this week her company “followed all the procurement steps” required. Since its creation in 2017, she said, the company is now working with over 170 agencies in 24 states across the country.

“We see ourselves as the pioneer for software as a service in child welfare,” Curcuru added.

For now, she says Binti will seek a renewal of its $440,000 yearly contract, which expires later this year.

“We’d be very interested in doing more,” Curcuru said. “We don’t have that contract. And we hope to, but like, we’re going to have to compete and win for that.”

Prior to Blalock’s appointment by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to head CYFD in early 2019, the agency took the initial step toward building a new data system by seeking requests for information. Binti, along with more than 20 other vendors, responded.

But, emails obtained through public records requests show that by May 2019, Blalock had singled out Binti for a possible sole source contract. About a year later he announced the hiring of the firm for the project in the publication, Government Technology.

Curcuru told the Journal this week that Blalock was familiar with Binti because she had met him “three to four times over the last five years prior to him joining CYFD.” Blalock had been a policy director with a nonprofit organization in the San Francisco area focused on poverty and homelessness and also had worked on child welfare issues.

An LFC report last summer said federal approval of the project, including a match of up to $28 million, was at risk given the fact that CYFD, rather than seeking competitive bids, hired Binti through a master price agreement, which allows government entities to buy from vendors at a set price.

The price agreement was already executed with another IT company, but at CYFD’s request, Binti was added to the agreement as an authorized manufacturer.

CYFD’s chief procurement officer Lucy Vigil-Rendon in an email in March 2020 cited her concerns about that method of hiring Binti. She said she believed CYFD had failed to purchase the software at the “best obtainable price” and there hadn’t been a fair and equitable treatment of “all persons involved in public procurement.” CYFD had failed to provide “safeguards for maintaining a procurement system of quality and integrity,” she added. The Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System project was to be completed by October 2022. With additional costs including hardware it had an estimated price tag of $45 million.

The state Children, Youth and Families Department has yet to produce documents related to the multimillion-dollar child welfare data project in response to a Journal public records request filed July 23.

The Journal sought emails received or sent over a four-month span by six CYFD employees working on the project.

In an initial response on Aug. 6, CYFD records custodian Kathleen Hardy told the Journal the request was “broad and burdensome” and additional time would be required to produce the records. She set an Oct. 15 deadline for responding.

Last Friday, Oct. 15, Hardy told the Journal in an email additional time was needed to comply with records production.

“There are presently 3,582 presumptively responsive records under review,” she wrote. “You may expect to hear from me by or before Dec. 17, 2021, on our progress.”

When the Journal asked for production of what records have been deemed responsive so far, Hardy sent an automatic-email response stating, “Due to health and safety measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19, responses may be delayed. I apologize for any inconvenience.”

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