Tennessee employee files lawsuit against public records over denial of COVID-19 consultant report


A state employee sued the Tennessee Department of Human Resources after being denied a copy of a taxpayer-funded report prepared by McKinsey & Co., a global consulting firm hired to help guide the response state to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thomas Wesley – described by his attorney as a state employee acting in his capacity as a citizen of Tennessee authorized to access government records under the state’s public records act – applies to a court judge in the Davidson County Chancellery to order state officials to appear in court to justify restraint. the report and order its public release.

The report Wesley is researching was state commissioned in April 2020 just at the start of the pandemic. McKinsey is a Washington, DC-based international consulting firm hired by the state to provide advice on a variety of public policy issues for over a decade. The company has earned $ 43 million from its work with the Tennessee government since 2013, according to a database of state contractors that does not provide access to past payment information.

The state’s COVID-19 contract with McKinsey describes a series of “deliverables” in its work advising Governor Bill Lee and state officials on the response to the pandemic.

Among them, an “assessment and review of government effectiveness to identify potential improvements in performance and help the state respond to the COVID-19 pandemic”; “Data and best practices to inform the choices the state will have to make as Tennessee’s economy reopens while working to minimize the spread of COVID-19” and “evidence-based options” for decision-making by the Unified State Command Group, which is made up of senior state officials responsible for coordinating the response to the pandemic.

Wesley submitted a public documents request to the Department of Human Resources on September 26 to obtain a copy of the government effectiveness rating cited in the contract.

The next day, Andrew Puryear, the department’s deputy general counsel, denied him the cases, according to copies of the email exchange filed in court.

“The requested documents are subject to the privilege of the deliberative process and contain confidential information submitted except for information regarding operational vulnerabilities,” Puryear wrote in his email denying Wesley the files.

Wesley’s lawyers say

Puryear had no legal basis for withholding the cases, according to Wesley’s attorneys, including Wendy Liu, an attorney for the Washington, DC-based Public Citizen Litigation Group, as well as Nashville attorneys William Harbison II and Ronald Harris.

“The deliberative privilege extends only to communications between senior government officials,” Liu said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “We don’t have that here. Operational vulnerabilities clearly relate to the security of computers and technical infrastructure.”

The Tennessee Public Records Act largely allows residents to access state, county, and municipal government records to ensure accountability and transparency. The law includes specific exemptions to protect a range of confidential information kept by public officials – information such as the social security numbers of employees and voters, records identifying children in state custody, and secrets. trade revealed in business submissions seeking economic incentives.

In total, there are 538 exceptions to public records set out in Tennessee law, but “deliberative process” is not one of them, although it has been recognized in some cases by state courts. The lawsuit argues that, if there was confidential information contained in the McKinsey report, the state should instead remove that part of the report rather than withhold it entirely.

Wesley isn’t the only one asking for access to the taxpayer-funded work of the global consulting firm.

The Tennessean reported in March that the Lee administration had refused to release the report prepared by McKinsey. The newspaper said the denial also cited a “deliberative process” and “operational vulnerability”.

Tennessee Republican Senator Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, told the Lookout this week he requested a copy of the report about a month and a half ago. Instead of the report, Gardenhire said he received the original contract and a summary. Gardenhire said he was still awaiting the full report.

As chairman of the Fiscal Review Committee, Gardenhire said his request was part of a larger mission to dig into state contracts without tendering or sole sourcing.

Consulting firm McKinsey has separately disagreed with state and county officials over its role as a paid advisor to opioid maker Purdue Pharma as it ramps up the distribution of the highly addictive drug, OxyContin, in Tennessee and across the country.

Attorney General Herbert Slatery III announced in April that Tennessee will receive a $ 15.2 million share of a $ 573 million multi-state settlement with McKinsey, who has not admitted any wrongdoing as a consultant Purdue.

In early December, 12 counties in Tennessee and the city of Lexington, Ky. Joined in two separate lawsuits aimed at holding McKinsey accountable for his involvement in the opioid crisis.


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