Rep. Hall, Sen. Nesbitt: Michigan residents deserve honest answers from officials involved in no-bid contract

Andrea Taverna, Kathryn Macomber refuse to appear before committee

Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic Chair Matt Hall and Vice Chair Aric Nesbitt today said a pair of individuals working with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration who refuse to answer questions about a failed COVID-19 contact tracing contract are denying the people of Michigan the ability to have trust, transparency and accountability from the highest level of state government.

After testifying last week, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon informed the committee this morning that Senior Advisor Andrea Taverna and Division Director Kathryn Macomber – who have been identified by the Office of the Auditor General as playing key roles in the awarding of the contact tracing contract – would not appear before the committee. Gordon admitted in his testimony that it was a mistake to award a no-bid contract for COVID-19 contact tracing to a firm that was revealed to have ties to the Democrat Party. The contract was later scuttled after public outcry about partisan ties.

The Auditor General’s Office stated in testimony today that when they looked into the nature of the contract, they reached out to Taverna on June 23 and were directed to her attorney, who informed them her client would not be answering any questions. The committee learned Gordon directed investigators to Taverna on June 29 – six days after she had already refused to cooperate with the Auditor General as it was compiling its report. Gordon had previously noted that Taverna was the individual in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration primarily responsible for contact tracing. The Auditor General also revealed Taverna has declined to speak with the Attorney General in a separate investigation on the contract. Macomber also was found to be a pivotal part of the decision-making related to the contract and is the DHHS’ HIV/STD Program Director.

“Director Gordon could not answer all of the committee’s questions on the contract because he was not directly involved. He tasked Andrea Taverna and Kathryn Macomber with the responsibility of this contract. The Auditor General confirmed today that Director Gordon referred investigators to Ms. Taverna on key questions related to the contract – but this referral came after she had already refused to answer them through her lawyer,” Hall said. “This makes it appear that they were actively working to avoid questions from the state auditor. The people of Michigan need answers, and I will continue to explore the Legislature’s options to bring Ms. Taverna and Ms. Macomber in to explain the outside pressure they faced and their motives in pursuing this contract.”

“Political operatives were given personal data that had been accumulated through the state. That’s a major problem, and Gov. Whitmer cancelled it because the situation was generating bad publicity,” Nesbitt said. “With testimony from Ms. Taverna and Ms. Macomber, we could help deliver more answers for the people we represent who deserve to know what happened. Instead, what we have seen is a lot of stonewalling. The Whitmer administration tells us there is no problem here, but there is a criminal investigation and involved personnel are refusing to talk with the Auditor General, Attorney General’s Office, or testify before this committee. If everything was proper, they should share what happened.”

Despite DHHS telling state auditors that contact tracing volunteer information – such as names, email addresses and phone numbers – would not be required to be deleted under the contract, state auditors testified they kept pursuing the deletion of all submitted information. Following the joint committee’s hearing last week, DHHS announced that all remaining personal identity information it had for the volunteers had been deleted – ensuring the information could no longer be used for political purposes.