US convention centre awarded $400k contract without tender

25 February 2020

An investigation into Houston First Corporation (HFC) – which manages the city’s convention centre, performing arts facilities and parking garages – has found the integrity of its procurement has been wanting.

In a report auditors found the body, which handled $230m in public and private funds between 2016-18, made a slew of basic errors, including creating purchase orders (POs) after work was carried out (in 20 different instances) and not being able to show clarity over whether a designated purchasing agent or another member of the purchasing team reviewed and approved the POs. 

The investigation also found that none of the 25 POs selected for review were supported by a purchase requisition.

But one of the most serious shortcomings identified was the awarding of a $400,000 parking technology contract to a vendor without it going through a formal bidding process. This is despite official policy requiring a tender for all spend over $50,000. 

In another contract award (valued at nearly $750m), the process HFC used was the same as that applied to much smaller projects – a practice that was deemed to be inadequate for such a large scheme. 

The report said: “Based on the procedures we performed, we concluded there is a need to strengthen internal controls and improve documentation to ensure consistency and compliance with existing procedures.”

It added: “There is a need to strengthen policies and procedures to guide the procurement process and, in some cases, to better align the policies with what is actually occurring.”

It continued: “Documentation should include guidance for scoring proposals as higher or lower and the names of the selection committee members.”

In response to the report, HFC said it would fully comply with recommendations and that since January 2019, uniform processes for documenting reviews and evaluating vendor proposals has already been put in place.

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