The Washington Examiner is reporting that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has awarded a substantial contract to an advertising firm with close ties to President Obama and other prominent Democrats. Aspects of the contract raise questions about the fairness of the CFPB contract process.
The firm, GMMB, has been awarded an open-ended contract valued at $5.7 million. GMMB is to provide “market research and strategic planning services to the CFPB’s consumer education and engagement division,” according to a CFPB representative, including “focus groups, online panels, surveys, [and] quantitative advertising.” The representative said that about 25 percent of that money has already been spent, though “no final advertising products have yet been produced.” The CFBP has not revealed any of the advertising campaigns GMMB is to deliver, nor a time frame for delivery.
The CFPB contract is a “blanket purchase agreement” (BPA) that allows the agency to add new projects to GMMB’s work without having to go through another bid solicitation or competitive selection process. A BPA is intended to simplify recurring federal purchases of “supplies and services, while leveraging ordering activities’ buying power by taking advantage of quantity discounts, saving administrative time, and reducing paperwork,” according to the US General Services Administration.
CFPB published a 46-page “Request for Quote” on May 10, 2013, for the BPA. That was a Friday. Responses were due the following Tuesday, giving potential bidders only two business days to submit their bids. No public notice of the award to GMMB was made by CFPB, although federal contract decisions are routinely made known through agency press releases and online announcements. The contract also isn’t included on a GMMB website listing of the BPAs it has recently won from other federal agencies. Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog, said the CFPB contract was troubling. “The short time frame raises basic questions about the legitimacy of the award process,” he said.
The process is particularly problematic given GMMB’s strong ties to Democratic candidates. GMMB handled President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012, where a current GMMB partner was a senior campaign adviser to Obama in 2008 and 2012 who also produced both of Obama’s inaugurations and directed the 2012 Democratic National Convention. For these services, GMMB was paid $389 million by the Obama campaign in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That was more than any other vendor or consultant employed by the campaign. Prior to that, the founder of GMMB was a senior advisor to President Clinton. GMMB currently represents several prominent Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.