New Gov. Mike Parson is standing by a state contract awarded to the Missouri chief operating officer's former employer

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — New Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is standing by a state contract awarded to a top staffer’s former employer, despite calls from a House Democrat for him to take action.

At issue is a roughly $2.7 million contract awarded earlier this month to McKinsey and Company to review the state’s Medicaid program. Drew Erdmann worked at the global management consulting firm before former Gov. Eric Greitens, a political newcomer, created the chief operating officer position and hired him for the job.

After a report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the issue, House Democratic Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty in a Monday statement said Greitens’ administration “rigged” the bidding process to award the contract to McKinsey. She called on Parson to cancel the contract and eliminate the chief operating officer’s position, which she called “an excessively paid staffer with an empty title.”

Parson spokesman Steele Shippy on Monday confirmed the governor is keeping the position, and said Parson is standing by the bidding process in place.

“The Governor’s Office has a long standing practice of wholly excluding itself from participating directly or indirectly with the procurement decision making process,” Shippy said in a statement. “It is a process that is exclusively left to the Office of Administration and is a fully transparent process that this Office supports.”

Documents from the Office of Administration detail the review process that evaluated McKinsey and the other four bidders: Accenture, Deloitte Consulting LLP, KPMG LLP and Navigant. McKinsey was awarded perfect scores for its proposed methodology and its team’s qualifications, while the other bidders fared poorly in those areas. But it’s unclear exactly why McKinsey received top scores, because unlike the other bidders, large portions of McKinsey’s proposal are redacted.

McKinsey received one of the lowest scores when it came to cost: It asked for more than $2.7 million, more than the cost of three of the other bids combined. Only one bidder, Accenture, was slightly higher.

One of the other companies competing for the contract filed a complaint last Thursday. McKinsey in a Monday response submitted to the Office of Administration said the criticisms “lack merit.”

In a statement, Office of Administration Commissioner Sarah Steelman defended the state’s process as “transparent, fair, and objective.”

“Medicaid constitutes approximately one third of our state’s budget,” she said, adding that the state department that oversees Medicaid “needed the emphasis in this procurement placed on the expertise and experience of the services it was contracting for relative to the cost of those services.”

The chief operating officer’s position was met with skepticism from the start, and McCann Beatty at the time described it as “just another staffer with an empty title and no independent authority.”

But Parson has kept Greitens’ cabinet in place after assuming office earlier this month when Greitens stepped down amid allegations of personal and political misconduct.