Friday, May 24, 2024

Louisiana utility regulators increase cybersecurity spending with questionable contractor

by BIZ Magazine

By Wes Muller, Louisiana Illuminator

The Louisiana Public Service Commission has agreed to pay more money to a contractor with questionable ties to one of its members.

The commission unanimously approved budget increases Wednesday of $73,450 and $68,750 on two cybersecurity contracts awarded to the McQ Group, a company owned by former attorney Scott McQuaig.

McQuaig has personal and professional connections to Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, R-Metairie, who is also an attorney. The pair cofounded two nonprofit organizations and have performed legal services for each other over the years.

Prior to his 2008 election to the commission, Skrmetta worked as McQuaig’s attorney in several civil matters. And in 2016, McQuaig worked as Skrmetta’s notary in the establishment of a trust fund for Skrmetta’s children, according to records with the Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court’s office.

Commissioner Foster Campbell, D-Monroe, opposed awarding a new contract to McQuaig last year and publicly accused Skrmetta of having a conflict of interest with McQuaig. Skrmetta repeatedly denied the allegation, calling it a political attack.

On Wednesday, Campbell did not challenge the budget increases, and LPSC staff members defended the McQ Group’s performance. The company’s contracts in question involve research and monitoring for cybersecurity threats to utilities and the state’s electric vehicle infrastructure. 

“I’ve been working with the McQ Group on cybersecurity issues for the last three years, and I can say they’ve done a very good job,” LPSC attorney Lauren Evans said.

McQuaig, who couldn’t be reached for comment via phone and did not respond to an email, has been performing contract work for the commission since 2013.

“Let me say this,” Campbell said. “I questioned Mr. McQ … So, I’m skeptical when you’re giving somebody another $60,000 or $80,000 … I have not had the best experience with his honesty, truthfulness, but that’s beside the point. That was another issue.”

Skrmetta said the extra money from the budget increases will only be used if LPSC staff need to contact the McQ Group for any cybersecurity issues. 

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