NY State audit finds bidding for school facial recognition system was improper
An audit from the state of New York examining the bidding for implementing facial recognition in the Lockport City School District finds that the process was not transparent, violated district rules and policy, and did not comply with New York State General Municipal Law.
The report from the Office of the New York State Comptroller continues an ongoing debate over the inclusion of a $3.8 million security system in Lockport City’s schools that would have biometric facial identification and gun detection. Questions were raised over SN Technologies’ Aegis system’s collection of data, racial performance disparities, and allegations of a corrupt bidding process made in 2021 by a local resident. Then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill suspending the application of facial recognition in schools for 18 months and ordered it to be studied.
The audit, which started in March 2021 after the resident demanded it, according to The Buffalo News, concludes that, “District officials did not demonstrate that certain goods and services were procured in accordance with the New York State General Municipal Law (GML) or the District’s procurement policies.”
It notes compliance problems with the “piggybacking” exception to GML Section 103 in regards to two contracts totaling $240,000; a lack of transparency and competition with a $3.3 million public works contract for a facial and object recognition software license; four professional services contracts worth $238,000 that were not acquired competitively; and written quotes that did not always adhere to the District’s procurement policy. The report also found “inaccurate and misleading” language from the Board-adopted standardization resolution.
A set of recommendations were listed in the audit, urging the district’s board of education to require the purchasing agent to enforce compliance with its procurement policy and GML bidding requirements; revise procurement policy to mandate a cost-benefit analysis before piggybacking or using group purchasing organizations contracts and review each contract to ensure it meets GML; and ensure that purchasing regulations are consistent with procurement policy thresholds for procuring goods and services below GML competitive bidding thresholds.
For Lockport City School District officials, it suggests documenting analysis for contracts awarded in compliance with GML when piggybacking; seeking some competition before awarding license agreements to meet transparency standards; procuring professional services in a competitive manner and issuing an RFP for them in accordance with policy and regulations. The audit also recommends obtaining and documenting the required number of quotes as required by the procurement policy for all goods and services purchases below the bidding threshold and documenting and retaining attempts to obtain quotes using the appropriate forms.
While the policies the district was found to have failed compliance with are not legal obligations, the auditor notes that the facial recognition software license would have had more “fair and reasonable” terms and conditions.