Jul. 24--MADISON -- A losing bidder for a state contract to test emissions says its competitor got an unfair advantage when it was allowed to make a presentation to state Department of Transportation officials three days before landing the contract.
Applus+ Technologies met with department officials in May to explain how it planned to test emissions at car repair shops, with self-serve kiosks and with remote transponders motorists can get installed in their cars. The two other bidders didn't get that chance.
State records show Applus+ got the deal with the help of lawyer Marc Marotta, a former top aide to Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.
The presentation has sparked the ire of Envirotest Systems Corp., Wisconsin's vendor since the state started its emissions testing program in 1984. Envirotest has appealed the contract award, in part on the grounds that state officials didn't follow procurement policies when they allowed one vendor but not others to make a presentation.
The Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday that the company also alleges the contract with Applus+ is illegal because it would violate a consumer-protection law that says the emissions tester cannot also be in the business of car repairs. The appeal has blocked the state from finalizing its deal with Applus+.
In January, the department issued a request for proposals on emissions testing in hopes of taking advantage of new testing technology. Three vendors responded: Applus+ of Chicago, Envirotest of Connecticut and SysTech International of Utah.
Applus+ won the deal on May 22, three days after making a presentation that the other bidders didn't get to give.
Applus+ scored the highest and had the lowest bid at $3.78 million a year. Envirotest's bid was $4 million.
The new contract would start in July 2009. Envirotest currently charges the state $11 million a year. The contract cost is dropping because the Legislature changed the law so that cars will be checked only by computer instead of with more expensive tailpipe tests. Cars built in 1995 or earlier are no longer tested; those vehicles are more likely to pollute, but there are fewer of them with each passing year.
Applus+ plans to shake up how tests are conducted. People could go to existing testing facilities in the region or one of 25 designated car repair shops that could fix any problems if they failed the tests. Envirotest argues that such a program is against the law and would turn vehicle owners into "captured customers" that could be preyed upon by repair shops.
Envirotest argues in its appeal that the May 19 presentation was inappropriate because state law says each vendor that is "reasonably apt" to win a contract must get an equal opportunity to discuss its proposal.
The DOT counters that the evaluation committee determined it was apt to make the award to Applus+ and no one else.
The meeting was scheduled because DOT workers were unfamiliar with Applus+ personnel and wanted to meet them before recommending the company receive the contract, Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi wrote in a letter earlier this month to Envirotest.
"They were not afforded any additional advantage by this presentation," he wrote. "The decision had been already made by this time, so the presentation simply confirmed for the evaluators that they had made the correct selection."
Envirotest raised the issue in an appeal it made to the DOT last month. Busalacchi's comments were included in his denial of their appeal.
Envirotest then took the matter to the Department of Administration, which is considering the matter.
Neither company has been a big player in political circles. No employee of Applus+ has donated money to state elected officials, according to records maintained by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. No one from Envirotest has ever given to Doyle.
Applus+ also met with the department in May 2007, when the agency was contemplating how it should modify its emissions testing program.
Marotta, the governor's former administration secretary, and other Applus+ representatives got an audience with Busalacchi when they met with the Division of Motor Vehicles officials in charge of re-bidding the testing contract. Busalacchi wasn't present when other vendors met with those DMV officials, records show.
But Busalacchi aide Chris Klein said Busalacchi met with other vendors around that time without the DMV.
Klein said Busalacchi only stopped in to say hello at the May 2007 meeting. He said Busalacchi could not discuss the matter because of the pending appeal.
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