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Abbott’s awesome border “emergency” cash-a-palooza

You get a lucrative contract! And you get a lucrative contract!

Gov. Greg Abbott’s border crackdown is producing a private contractor bonanza, showering tens of millions of dollars on staffing companies, technology firms and builders, including one business that sold Texas hundreds of millions of dollars worth of unreliable COVID tests.

None of the contractors are going through a formal solicitation process, potentially raising costs for a border security program that is already eating up more tax dollars than advertised.

Gothams, LLC, led by a soldier-turned-Silicon Valley entrepreneur, in January got a $43 million “emergency” purchase order to build and staff a state-run migrant detention center in Hebbronville in Jim Hogg County, just east of Laredo near the U.S.-Mexico border, records obtained by the Houston Chronicle show.

Beginning early in the coronavirus pandemic, Gothams sold Texas over $400 million worth of COVID testing services using a controversial test from Curative Inc. In January 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration flagged the test for producing a “risk of false results, particularly false negative results.” The FDA stopped short of recommending the test be discontinued but six months later the agency revoked its emergency use authorization at Curative’s request.

Curative Inc. is still providing tests and testing services, including in Texas, but not with the discontinued test it developed at the outset of the pandemic, the company says.

The Gothams CEO, Matt Michelsen — who described himself as an early investor in and “operator” of Curative — defended the start-up company’s original oral fluids tests as better than invasive nasal swab tests. He said the FDA action was motivated by nothing more than “political nonsense.”

“The test was superior but we caved to the FDA,” Michelsen said in a brief phone interview with the Chronicle. “It should have been a scientific test, not a political test.”

As with the COVID deals, the border purchases are being awarded without the burden of formal bidding by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, or TDEM, which falls under the management of the Texas A&M University System.

There were no formal contracts for the hundreds of millions spent on COVID tests, and there aren’t any for the border outlays either, according to TDEM. Officials are purchasing millions of dollars at a time in goods and services, sometimes tens of millions, using simple 30-day purchase orders.

Making it all possible: Abbott’s monthly renewal of his disaster declaration along parts of the southern border, allowing him to suspend normal contracting procedures that officials say slow the response but that critics say drive up costs and promote cronyism. Same goes for the COVID-related purchases.

“He’s just abusing emergency powers at this point,” said state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, who represents a border district and is vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “When we’re spending this amount of taxpayer dollars, it’s important for us to honor our constituents with transparency and accountability.”

TDEM acknowledged Abbott’s ongoing emergency border security orders allow the agency to “go direct to vendors without a formal solicitation or bid process,” but in answers to written questions from the Chronicle, officials said they informally reached out to eight companies for the Hebbronville facility. Only Gothams “met the full requirements of the bid,” the agency said.

The Chronicle asked to see all its border security proposals from private companies but the agency has so far declined to release them — including building plans and “professional resumes” that were submitted to the agency.

Surely the next story in this series will be about the millions of dollars these vendors have donated to Abbott’s campaign. And after that, about the criminal investigation into all the resulting graft that has been launched. Right?

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2 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    I get that you won’t print this, but perhaps you should consider that this story is directly related to the story right before this, about Vela’s House seat on TX/MX border. You wrote:

    “I don’t feel any better about this race than I did before….”

    Related Article:

    https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2021/09/27/will_bidens_border_crisis_cost_democrats_texas_seats_146469.html?mc_cid=668f932718#!

    “As the immigration crisis worsens in South Texas, President Biden’s inconsistent border policies and messaging are not only damaging his approval ratings nationwide, but they could also cost the Democratic Party once-safe seats in Congress.

    The Rio Grande Valley is the epicenter of the crisis, and its residents feel the impact of the surge in border crossings every day. Illegal crossings reached a 21-year high in July with 212,672 encounters reported by the U.S. Border Patrol that month alone. Across southern Texas, car chases have spiked this year, nearly nine-fold in some areas. Ranchers struggle to balance compassion for exhausted immigrants crossing through their property with concerns over personal safety, as well as costs to repair broken fences, trashed land, and stolen equipment. Federal agents also have reported a staggering increase of 4,000 in fentanyl seizures this year in Texas as smugglers exploit stretched border-patrol resources.”

    Biden’s open border policy isn’t popular with Texans, not even the majority Hispanic border region dwellers. Abbott wouldn’t be doing these things if the border was under control; he couldn’t make any political hay from it. But it is out of control, even the Hispanics on the border know it. And that’s why you don’t feel good about the Vela race. And that’s before we even talk about the anti-oil and gas policies of Biden which also have negatively impacted Texas’ border communities.

  2. Feckless says:

    Even the Hispanics?
    Wow, so racist.
    Would a contrary response to your Russian propaganda be “printed” at any of the right-wing websites you usually review?