The firm under a $4 million state contract to review New York's policies and decisions made during the coronavirus pandemic needs more time.
The Olson Group, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is about halfway through its 32,000-hour review of the state's coronavirus response and handling of the pandemic, which is several months behind schedule. The firm entered into a 12-month state contract in mid-January, and was expected to release its findings in a public report one year later.
"I'm frustrated at the pace that's taking so long for the COVID report to come out," Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters about the review Thursday at an unrelated event in Albany. "I am anxious for the results. I requested this. I want to know what they are and get them out to the public. And it's important."
Hochul requested the review last year, saying the state needs to examine its policies and procedures made during the pandemic and learn the details of what went right and what didn't. The final report will conclude how decisions made by state leaders impacted schools, businesses, nursing homes and more, and will include recommendations for how New York should respond to future public health emergencies.
Administrators at the Olson Group Ltd. and state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DSHES) officials said the additional time to complete the review will not impact the $4.3 million price.
Officials with the DSHES, the agency overseeing the review, say the firm needs several more months beyond the original expected timeline because of the size and scale of the project.
"Given the scale and scope of this project, the vendor has taken more time to gather and review material than expected and the state has subsequently pushed back the timeline for final delivery," DSHES spokesman Colin Brennan said in a statement. "We expect the full After Action [review] to be delivered by mid-2024 and the midpoint briefing report to be delivered by the end of this calendar year."
Olson Group Ltd. President Kyle Olson declined to be interviewed.
"OGL’s policy is not to speak to the media regarding open contracts," he said Monday in an email.
The firm referred all other questions to DSHES.
The Olson Group updates two full-time staffers on DHSES' project management team each week about how the review is progressing, and they monitor timelines and project plans.
DSHES Commissioner Jackie Bray leads state oversight of the review and is the firm's main point of contact.
"The project management team monitors timelines, project plans and the quality of deliverables," Brennan said in a statement. "Commissioner Bray has been formally briefed three times by the Olson Group on progress and receives weekly updates from the DHSES project team."
Critics have questioned how effectively independent the review will be with a member of Hochul's cabinet in regular communication with the firm's leadership.
Bray this summer noted the size and complexity of the review during an interview earlier this summer a few months after work began.
"This is a complicated, really important after-action review," Bray said. "[It's] probably one of the most complicated in history, and so they're deep in research phase."
The research phase will continue for months to come, including focus groups and online-style town halls and forums to maximize input, Bray added. Information will be gathered for the review until the firm is ready to compile its findings, she said.
The state has paid the firm $500,000 to date of the $4.3 million budgeted for the review, according to DSHES, with about an additional $200,000 approved for payment in the coming weeks.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo led the state through the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is responsible for most of the policies and procedures New York followed during that time.
Cuomo's spokesman Rich Azzopardi declined to comment Monday, and would not answer questions about if the firm has contacted the former governor to be part of the review.
A former staffer from Cuomo's administration said Monday the firm contacted them by email twice over the summer about participating in the review. The former staffer says the firm was explicit about the review's educational purpose for state leaders.
They said they responded to the firm's email and will participate, but have not been contacted further to schedule a time with the firm to be interviewed.