‘Poor’ state communication clouded Utah’s no-bid COVID-19 tech contracts, report says

The Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.

Silas Walker, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Poor communication between state departments and a lack of collaboration with health officials compounded issues around a pair of controversial, multimillion-dollar coronavirus contracts with tech companies, according to a limited legislative review released Tuesday.

The review by legislative auditors found that of the more than $97.3 million state agencies doled out in emergency spending to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic from March to July, many contracts were “executed without significant concerns.” But two contracts “would have benefitted from better communication, collaboration, and direction if all relevant state entities were included in decisions.”

Those contracts include the over $4 million partnership with Twenty Labs on the Healthy Together App, and the $9.6 million partnership with Nomi Utah on the TestUtah initiative.

“What we found is there was really a need for greater collaboration,” legislative auditor general Kade Minchey told lawmakers on the Legislative Audit Subcommittee. “We understand there was a lot going on during that time, but we still feel like for those contracts in particular, if there had been collaboration with the entities at play there, there could have been some opportunities to avoid some pitfalls.”

The contract with Twenty to develop the Healthy Together App was intended to assist with COVID-19 contact tracing efforts, among other features, but has not been a successful tool for state health officials. The tracking feature that was initially pitched to aid contact tracing has since been turned off, which state officials attributed to privacy concerns that had turned many Utahns away from the app. The app was recently revised to use Bluetooth.

While questions and concerns swirled around the app, another Utah businessman offered the same service for free.

To date, the state has paid over $4 million for the Twenty app and continues to pay an ongoing …read more

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