The contract for transcribing interviews for the county District Attorney's office is worth $1.5 million over three years. Of the 15 businesses whose bids were considered, Nicole Fowler's Anchor Transcribing Services was scored dead last by the county's evaluation team.
She was surprised she received no credit for experience, even though she had transcribed for the D.A. for seven years. Nor was she given credit for her references.
FOWLER: "We gave the District Attorney's office as a reference. However, they said, because we don't currently have that contract, that the D.A.'s office is an expired reference. And we were unaware that references expired."
Fowler says a selection process that ignores a qualified local business is flawed. It is the same process that selected out-of-state companies ANP and AVTranz to provide transcription services in 2009. This year The county had to put the contract back up for bid a year early because one of the companies could not handle the work load.
In an internal email dated October 21, 2011, Susan Elliott with the District Attorney's Office alerts the entire office that:
"the quality of transcripts has further declined."
And that attorneys should,
"not attempt to edit the transcripts yourself as the vendors are being paid for this service and need to be aware of the problems we are having."
There is also a letter to the district attorney dated December 23, 2009. In it, local attorney Donald Masuda complains to District Attorney Jan Scully about "many inaccuracies" when he compared taped witness statements with the transcripts.
On October 27th , the county announced that ANP and Net Transcripts Inc had been awarded the new contracts, meaning Net Transcripts has replaced AVTranz as the second contractor.
Though she is the lone official complainant, Fowler is not alone in her feelings about a process that so far has yielded only one capable company out of the two selected.
Mark Caton with Globespan Transcription in San Diego had a bid that was 60 cents per page below the winning bids. He says the way the county judged references and qualifications seemed arbitrary…and not effective in picking the four best candidates.
CATON:"Two of the four people who were invited to participate in, I guess you would call the bakeoff, failed their transcription tests. I'm not sure how you can go through receiving good recommendations and great scores and fail at a test that is the basis of the bid."
One of the other bidders was Craig Hutchison of Foothill Transcription Company in Rancho Cordova . He, like Fowler, also questions why the county did not make an effort to keep jobs from the contract among Sacramento area businesses. Hutchison received the maximum points for references, but only half the maximum for experience.
HUTCHISON: "We do a variety of law enforcement agencies up and down the state of California along with other district attorney's offices as well as some superior courts where we're transcribing actual criminal trials. They put me down for the maximum points for technology but they say I don't have the qualifications."
The County will launch an investigation into the process and results. Mike Morse is the county's Director of General Services.
MORSE: "If we found that there is adequate merit to the protests, we would consider putting the RFP (request for proposals) back on the street."
As for why Fowler is the only complainant? Globespan's Mark Caton says his business can't afford to appeal.
CATON: "We have thought long and hard as to whether that was something we should do. But, in my experience, filing a protest is a death sentence."
The county's Morse vehemently disagrees with that assertion.
MORSE: "We don't have a little black list that we write people down on because they filed a protest last year, so we're not going to score them as high. Absolutely not the case."
Morse says investigations of this kind typically take ten days or so. The bid has not been finalized by the Board of Supervisors. The board is scheduled to review the bid and hear Fowler's complaint December 6th.