Minnesota won’t show legislators $212 million contract with COVID testing company

The Walz administration apparently didn't allow open bidding on the contract, instead awarding it based on metrics that have not been explained to state or national lawmakers.

Minnesota National Guardsmen work a COVID-19 testing site. (MN National Guard/ Twitter)

Minnesota officials have been unwilling to show legislators the state’s $212 million contract with a COVID-19 testing company or explain the company’s ties to Gov. Tim Walz’s administration.

Vault Health is a New York-based medical services company that’s been contracted to provide free COVID-19 testing for Minnesotans. Meanwhile, the state has been unwilling to show legislators its most recent multi-million dollar agreement with the company or explain how the relationship between the Walz administration and Vault developed.

Sen. Michelle Benson, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said in a recent video release that one of her “responsibilities during the pandemic is to watch over spending at the Minnesota Department of Health.”

However, Benson’s job to oversee spending has been complicated by a lack of transparency. “We’ve been asking since February for the most recent contract,” but these efforts have been unsuccessful, Benson explained.

Rather than showing Benson’s committee the new contract, Minnesota officials opted to provide a “presentation from the Minnesota Department of Health that talks about lab processing for testing” and how Vault will aid in those efforts, per the senator.

That presentation revealed that Vault is set to receive $83 million to provide testing to schools and child care centers and another $129 million to test the general community, but did not include the contract, Benson said.

The senator also suggested that there has been no explanation regarding why Vault was chosen to receive nearly a quarter-billion dollars for its services in Minnesota. “We’re making a data request to see how the relationship between the Walz administration and Vault Health developed,” Benson said.

She is not alone in her curiosity about the nature of this relationship. U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn suggested in February that “Walz set up this contract using his emergency powers and did not go through a standard competition process.”

Hagedorn also noted that Vault hired Minnesota Democrats like his own 2018 opponent Dan Feehan, Feehan’s campaign manager and Walz’s former deputy chief of staff to help conduct operations in Minnesota.

While Feehan does have relevant experience working at the Pentagon during the Ebola virus outbreak, it’s unclear why Vault chose to hire the chief of staff or campaign manager.