Lawmakers question $295M emergency deal to expand Texas contact tracing network

Texas lawmakers are questioning the hastily-awarded, multi-million dollar contract that put a little-known company in charge of the state’s effort to track down people who may be infected with the coronavirus.

Hearst Newspapers reported last weekend that Texas will give MTX Group up to $295 million over a 27-month period to hire contact tracers and create a call center to find people who were exposed to the virus. Building up a force of contact tracers is key to the state’s strategy for limiting the spread of coronavirus as Texas reopens its economy.

The Texas Department of State Health Services, which is administering the contract, could not cite another state in which MTX has performed the same level of work. It said the company has helped build and run a coronavirus call center in New York City, but was unable to say whether the company has ever hired, trained and managed a fleet of tracers.

Legislators from both parties say they were caught off guard by the contract award and questioned whether it was an appropriate use of federal dollars. A history of contracting troubles at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission only compounds the worry, they say.