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Department of Labor case demonstrates cronyism still alive and well in DC

The Department of Labor needs to clean up its act.

By David Kamioner | February 7, 2020

As taxpayers we’re obviously concerned how are tax dollars are spent. We assume some level of inefficiency, after all it is the federal government.

But when it goes past that to blatant cronyism, contacts over merit, then we have reason to be angry and the government agencies involved have reason to reform themselves.

Welcome to the case of the Department of Labor and Trowbridge and Trowbridge.

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Contracts specifically awarded by government-labeled minorities based on gender and race are an every day occurrence here in DC. The deal is that the feds shovel set aside awardees cash and the contractors live high on the hog and hire willy-nilly. The feds look like they’re creating jobs for the underserved and everyone goes home with what they want.

At best it helps deserving businesses get a leg up. At worst, when cronyism takes over, merit goes out the window and contracts are awarded just on who the principals know professionally and socially.

In the mundane precincts of government few blink an eye at this. But occasionally there comes along a case so suspicious that some take notice because the level of contractor hijinks is so evident.

On that note, meet the data firm RSIS and by extension, current contract awardee Trowbridge and Trowbridge and their $66 million Job Corp data center contract with the Department of Labor.

The main players in this setup are DOL IT Director Linda Estep, Trowbridge executive and former RSIS employee Christine Brandell, and a leader in the federal contract community named Joni Barr. Estep has been the DOL IT chief at the Austin, TX, Job Corps site since 1990. Brandell is the Trowbridge project manager for the contract. Barr is close to the process because she was with NITAC and is now a VP with Trowbridge.

NITAC is the procurement arm of the federal government. It is supposed to oversee the process to ensure fairness and transparency. But the feds are susceptible to feather stroking as much as the next person, probably more so.

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We know that Trowbridge has allegedly engaged in a years long project to get close to the feds by having Brandell cozy up to Estep. According to one high level expert in the government contracting industry LifeZette talked to, “They are really close. They go way back at least ten years.” They met when Brandell was at RSIS and Estep was her client at DOL.

That relationship resulted in Trowbridge, under several corporate guises, maintaining the contract through thick and thin. Recently, Brandell had been getting close to Barr by giving her accolades and whatnot. Then viola, Barr magically winds up as a VP at Trowbridge when she leaves NITAC.

The DC revolving door, regulate a firm one day and join it the next.

As taxpayers we deserve better than this serious level of cronyism.

This piece originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

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