Is a Real Time Solutions $1.7 Million No-Bid Contract the Tip of a $24 Million Iceberg?

Photograph by Andrew Shiva. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0.

How silence from a CEO, and avoidance by the Lujan Grisham Administration regarding questions about a $1.7 million no-bid contract, shed light on $24 million in additional contracts the company received in the last year.

About a month ago, while researching the large number of no-bid “emergency” procurements authorized by New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration, The Candle decided to call Real Time Solutions Inc., about a $1.7 million no-bid contract it had recently received from the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) .

“I’ll call you when I get back to the office,” Real Time, CEO Steve Schroeder told The Candle .

Schroeder was apparently on the back nine of a golf course in, or close to, Albuquerque.

The Candle had questions about the DFA “emergency procurement” contract/purchase order with Real Time, as the contract required the production of, among other things, commercial videos – something that was not included as a service offered on their website.

Schroeder never called back.

The “emergency” procurement made by DFA with Real Time uses federal funds for development of advertising for a program which is supposed to assist New Mexicans in preventing residential evictions and utility disconnections.

Between the time it took to finish his golf game and the time he had promised to speak with The Candle, Schroeder likely spoke with officials in the Lujan Grisham Administration about The Candle’s inquiry into the no-bid awarded deal.

It would not be the only time Schroeder failed to return a call about that contract – and about $24 million in other contracts with New Mexico state agencies for FY 2021, noted by The Candle.

DFA Spokesperson dodges question about timing of ’emergency procurement.

The day before the initial call to Schroeder, The Candle emailed the DFA ten detailed questions about the emergency spending for the program meant to provide timely emergency assistance to needy New Mexicans.

DFA public information officer (PIO), Henry Valdez, responded generally, explaining, “We built this program from conception to implementation as quickly as possible to ensure we get the assistance out the door and meet the original federal government deadline of September 30th, 2021, which is why you saw an emergency procurement…”

Valdez also wrote, “Please let me know if you have a follow up.”

The premise for the ’emergency procurement’ as stated in public documents, was that DFA would not have enough time to do conduct the bid process if it was to get the money out the door efficiently for renters and utility consumers.

As Valdez did not provide an answer to the emailed question of when DFA had become aware of the funding, The Candle followed up with a phone call.

Valdez talked with The Candle generally about the program but did not have an answer to the question about when DFA was made aware of the federal funds availability for the program.

Then as more probative questions were asked, the PIO said his boss was on the other line, and he’d have to call back.

He didn’t.

The next day The Candle sent DFA another email, to Valdez directly, asking to pick up from where the previous phone call ended the day before, when he had to speak with his boss.

The Candle also asked Valdez for a copy of the contract, explaining Schroeder was supposed to call back later that afternoon, and having the contract to refer to would be of help.

Valdez responded via email with a bit more information, but still avoided the question of when DFA was apprised of the federal funds becoming available … and he sent a link to us to officially request a copy of the contract between DFA and Real Time via the Inspection of Public Records Act.

The Candle never heard another word from Valdez regarding the no-bid contract.

The Candle finds more than $24 million worth of procurements from state agencies with Real Time Solutions – increasing eight-fold over one year.

After receiving the ‘cold shoulder’ from both Real Time and the Governor’s team at DFA, The Candle decided to dig a bit deeper.

From public disclosures it was revealed that Real Time has increased its work for the state of New Mexico from about $3 million in the last fiscal year (FY20), to about $24 million in the current fiscal year (FY21) – something The Candle and Roundhouse Movidas will report on in the next installment of this story.

And although much of the increased emergency procurement spending by several agencies of the state can be attributed to COVID related needs, there has not been a great deal of oversight on the spending beginning in the spring of 2020.

Those early months of the COVID response can provide legitimate cover for relaxing procurement process protections; however, there have been hundreds of millions of dollars spent that deserve more scrutiny.

The New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) has expressed its concern about assuring accountability, especially as New Mexico is about to receive another $1.75 Billion from the federal government, and the governor is asserting that she has authority to determine how to spend those funds – not the legislature.

Daniel Chacón of the Santa Fe New Mexican, reported earlier today that the LFC is also questioning the “no-bid” spending by DFA with Real Time, writing LFC program evaluation manager, Micaela Fischer, “”told lawmakers the department had set up a pair of “really large no-bid procurements” totaling about $5.4 million with Real Time Solutions to conduct a marketing and outreach campaign, a move she said “makes our eyebrows raise.””

And the LFC also challenged the success of the DFA’s and Real Time’s handling of resources for the program. More from Chacón’s story:

“”The rental assistance funding has just been pretty slow to roll out,” Micaela Fischer, program evaluation manager for the committee, told the bipartisan group of lawmakers.

“”DFA told us that they’re just starting to distribute their $284 million of funding this month,” she said. “They’ve awarded just shy of $400,000 — one-tenth of 1 percent. It’s not much.”

So much for the DFA public information officer’s assessment about the how the DFA and Real Time Solutions built this program from conception to implementation as quickly as possible to ensure we get the assistance out the door…”

Next installment: Another Real Time Solutions’ executive refuses to answers questions about the federal funds his company received through the Lujan Grisham Administration … nor will comment on a $259,595 “PPP loan” provided to Real Time Solutions even as the company was approved for millions of dollars in contracts with the state of New Mexico.