DCF Leader Makes Contracting Changes After Probe
Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell said Tuesday he has taken steps to change contracting at his agency in the wake of an internal probe that raised questions of cronyism.
Poppell also told reporters that it is “probably a fair assumption” that the findings of a recently released Office of Inspector General report were the reason behind Robert “Bob” Quam’s resignation from the department this month.
The report found that Quam’s personal relationship with an Aramark Healthcare Support Services manager was problematic; that Quam misused state resources when he directed Aramark staff to fix damage he caused to a rental car and to drive the repaired car back to South Florida; and that he potentially violated state rules regarding contract procurement.
Quam was the department’s mental-health treatment facilities chief hospital administrator and, as a result, was in charge of multimillion-dollar contracts.
"I wasn't part of the resignation process,” Poppell said Tuesday when asked about Quam’s departure. “I believe the report was getting close to coming out, so that's probably a fair assumption (about the reason for the resignation)."
Poppell said he has taken steps to prevent such problems in the future.
“One of the things that we've done is we've created a chief procurement officer and we're going to start driving procurements from Tallahassee that had been regionally based,” Poppell said. “And the state hospital system has operated fairly independently. Not just in procurement but in financial matters and other things that, so we're pulling all of that into a headquarters-led, headquarters-driven process.”
Poppell is a former secretary of the Department of Management Services, which is responsible for much of the state’s contracting. It was his experience at the Department of Management Services, he said, that initiated the changes at the Department of Children and Families, not the inspector general findings.
“I very much did not like a regional approach,” Poppell said.
Department Inspector General Keith R. Parks launched the investigation after the agency received a written complaint about Quam from someone who identified themselves as a Florida State Hospital employee. Otherwise, the letter outlining the complaints was anonymous.
The employee flagged concerns that Quam had gone on a trip to Africa with Richard Frey, a manager at Aramark Healthcare Support Services, LLC. The company had the maintenance contract with Florida State Hospital and was planning to bid on a food-service contract at the facility.
Quam acknowledged taking the trip with Frey but told the inspector general’s office that he had paid for all of his expenses and didn’t think there was a conflict of interest.
“When I decided to go to Africa, I didn’t realize it would be unethical since we were paying for our own trips personally,” he wrote.
Quam added that since he was going to a “foreign continent, and Mr. Frey, had previously been to Africa, I felt that it would be safer to go with him since he had previous knowledge of the continent,” the inspector general report said.
Frey told the inspector general’s office that he told Quam to visit Africa during a conversation about a safari he had booked. When investigators asked Frey if he paid for any of Quam’s expenses or vice versa, Frey recalled that Mr. Quam gave him a check for several hundred dollars, but he could not immediately recall what it was for.
Eventually Frey acknowledged that he had “booked and paid for airline tickets so they could sit together and said Mr. Quam gave him a check to reimburse his (Mr. Quam’s) airfare,” the report said.
Frey also told investigators that he considered Quam a good friend and that Quam would come by his house on Lake Talquin, “usually to sit on the deck, have a drink and look at the lake.”
The inspector general requested that Department of Children and Families general counsel provide a legal opinion as to whether the friendship between the two men posed a conflict of interest. According to the report, the general counsel noted “there is great potential to find ethically problematic behavior.”
The report also focused on a complaint alleging that Quam directed Aramark transportation staff at Florida State Hospital to repair a rental vehicle he had wrecked and to drive the vehicle back to South Florida where he rented it.
The third complaint lodged about Quam focused on his relationship with contractor Frank Fela. Quam said he had worked with Fela for more than 20 years.
The complaint noted that there were “multiple” purchase orders to Fela of $34,999, which is $1 below the maximum allowable amount without having to procure a contract.
“Quam created a conflict of interest and failed to safeguard his ability to make objective fair and impartial decisions in conjunction with the department contracting actions with Frank Fela,” the report said.
There were 18 purchase orders between September 2016 and June 30, 2019, totaling more than $401,845.94. Florida rules require agencies to procure services that are going to cost more than $35,000.
But if costs are below $35,000, rules allow departments to be more informal, requiring them to get a minimum of two bids for the services.
The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper first reported on the inspector general findings Monday.