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DHHS director on tracing contract: “We made a mistake”

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Courtesy Michigan.gov
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The director of the state Department of Health and Human Services testified Thursday before a legislative committee examining Michigan’s COVID-19 response.

Director Robert Gordon was called to explain a contact tracing contract with a firm that does political work for Democrats.

The contract was cancelled by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in April after it became public.

Gordon said that decision to award the contract was “a mistake” that occurred as his department was dealing with a wave of COVID-19 cases.

“Our priority was to move quickly and save lives,” Gordon said. “Politics had nothing to do with it.”

Gordon endured a two-hour inquest before the House and Senate Joint Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Most of the questions came from the committee chair, Rep. Matt Hall (R-Emmett Township). Hall was particularly interested in when Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) learned about the contract. Gordon said he does not think she learned of the contract before it was awarded to Kolehouse Strategies.

Gordon said Kolehouse could do the work but the deal created a problem “…mainly because of the appearance it created and the time that the arrangement has since taken away from the department’s response to COVID-19. With the intention to save lives and within our legal authority, we made a mistake here. One that I regret.”         

He also said Whitmer made the right call by cancelling the $200,000 contract.

Hall said Gordon and other DHHS employees may be called back before the committee to answer more questions. 

In a statement released after the hearing, Hall said he is very concerned about contact tracing data – including people who volunteered to be contact tracers -- being held by a firm that does political work.

“People across Michigan signed up to volunteer for this contact tracing program thinking they were helping in the fight against COVID-19, but they were instead led to a site with Democratic affiliation and their information is now in the possession of a political consulting firm that can potentially use it for political purposes.”

Rick Pluta is the Capitol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He is heard daily on WCMU's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.