Sprint's bid suddenly feeling a $1 million thorn State to decide today who will provide special phone services for deaf

September 04, 1996|By Timothy J. Mullaney and Michael Dresser | Timothy J. Mullaney and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Sprint Communications Co. is on the verge of winning a $24.8 million contract to continue providing special phone services for deaf and hearing-impaired citizens, but two members of the Board of Public Works questioned the deal because AT&T Corp. offered a lower price.

The board is scheduled to vote today on the award, which the state Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning recommended giving to Sprint, even though AT&T bid $23.7 million for the three-year deal, because Sprint scored much higher on an evaluation of the bids' technical merit.

The contract is to run the state's Telecommunications Relay Service, a system in which an operator interprets during calls between people using a teletype device for the deaf and hearing people who rely on voice.

The operator types what the hearing person says for the benefit of the hearing-impaired caller, while repeating the words that the deaf customer types to hearing patrons who don't have the equipment to communicate directly with hearing-impaired correspondents.

Each state is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to have such a system. Maryland's system handles 200,000 calls per month, and is paid for by a $0.12 monthly surcharge on local phone bills for all customers that lets hearing-disabled customers get service adapted to their needs for the same rate that most people pay for regular phones.

"If the announcement does come out, obviously we are thrilled," Sprint spokeswoman Eileen Doherty said. Sprint already has the contract and runs the Maryland system out of a Northwest Baltimore office, but the deal was put up for new bids when it came due for renewal.

The state Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning recommended keeping the contract with Sprint because Sprint's proposal scored 561 out of a possible 600 points in a rating of technical merit, well above AT&T's score of 449. Technical merit accounts for 60 percent of the total points considered in the bid-evaluation process.

The budget department's written recommendation to the board said Sprint has a proven track record running relay services, and more ability than competitors to reroute calls in emergencies to assure uninterrupted service.

The $1.1 million difference put AT&T's price score at a perfect 400 points, compared with 381 for Sprint. MCI Telecommunications Corp. ranked third on both price and technical merit.

Nonetheless, the proposed award to a company that was not the lowest bidder raised eyebrows at a preliminary meeting of the Board of Public Works yesterday.

"A million dollars is a million dollars; I have to think about this overnight," said Richard N. Dixon, the state treasurer and a member of the board.

He was joined in his misgivings by Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who noted that the difference between the AT&T and Sprint bids could widen to about $5 million if the state exercises each of the seven one-year renewal options after the three-year contract term expires.

But the choice of Sprint was defended by two Glendening Cabinet secretaries.

Eugene R. Lynch, secretary of general services, said Sprint's service under the previous contract had made the state's relay service the best-performing in the nation.

"We looked at value as opposed to flat-out price," said Frederick W. Puddester, secretary of budget and fiscal planning. "It was not an easy call."

An AT&T spokesman said he had not officially learned of the recommendation and reacted cautiously to the news.

"We feel we made a solid proposal," said the spokesman, Burke Stinson. "Let's see the dried ink first."

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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