DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration informed bidders Friday it would not award a contract for an outside vendor to operate a call center to help residents set up coronavirus vaccine appointments.
The Iowa Department of Public Health informed several companies that had submitted emergency bids for the contract last week that it would not select any of them and was “continuing to evaluate call center solutions.”
The department’s notice did not elaborate but cited an administrative rule that allows for bidding processes to be cancelled when in the state’s interest.
The call center was to field inquiries about coronavirus vaccines, including helping screen residents for eligibility and set them up with providers to make appointments.
It was to be part of Iowa’s effort to improve on a rocky vaccine rollout that has frustrated many residents and has the state lagging far behind the national average for the percentage of its population getting shots. As of Friday, federal data showed Iowa in 43rd place with only 9% of its residents having received one or more doses.
On Monday, the department selected Microsoft to develop and deploy a centralized online system for people to register and schedule vaccine appointments, a task that eligible workers and people over age 65 have struggled to complete on their own. Reynolds said Microsoft hopes to have the system available to the public in two weeks.
The health department had put out an emergency request last week that gave bidders one day to submit proposals for the scheduling system and call center.
Fifteen companies applied, including Iowa City-based MCI, which is owned by major Republican Party donor and activist Anthony Marlowe. MCI had previously won an emergency $2.3 million contract for contact-tracing services that the department awarded in November.
The department decided Monday it would award Microsoft the online scheduling system contract and split the call center into a separate award, with the winning bidder’s selection delayed until Friday.
The department had rejected one telemarketing company’s request to delay the call center submission deadline by a few days, citing the “emergent” need for the services. The award’s cancellation notice was posted online shortly before 5 p.m. Friday.
MCI had been recruiting vaccine hotline representatives in recent weeks for $13.50 per hour jobs to work in other states. Iowa’s request for proposals had said the winning bidder could “create or leverage an existing vaccine call center.”
One day after MCI won the contact-tracing contract in November, Reynolds returned a $10,000 contribution that Marlowe had made to her campaign in October, disclosure records show.