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When the Center for New York City Law ranked the city’s top 100 contracts again this year, it noted an interesting trend–the growing numbers of contracts awarded through “negotiated acquisition.”

The process, which allows a group to negotiate directly with an city agency, circumvents the usual scheme of competitive bidding. The method was originally intended to be used to quickly award capital contracts in “emergency” situations that couldn’t wait–presumably, something like a disaster or unexpected construction problem.

But increasingly, infrastructure contracts are being awarded this way, thanks to a new policy earlier this year that expanded the process. In fiscal year 1999, the biggest negotiated acquisition contracts were for remodeling at Rikers Island (at $75 million, the eleventh-biggest contract of the year) and a group of four $35 million contracts for hospitals, schools and courts.

Even some social services contracts are now being let this way. For example, the multimillion-dollar contracts for welfare-to-work job assessment and job training that the city Human Resources Administration is now hammering out were arranged through negotiated acquisition.

“We’re extremely worried about how this might hurt small community-based groups who will be at an increasing disadvantage through this process,” said Glenn Pasanen of City Project, a budget watchdog group. “It might put some into desperate situations.”

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