CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The State Auditor's Office has rejected a $62,500 bill from a Fairfax, Va.-based consulting firm hired to advise state Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on the state's use of $126.3 million in federal stimulus funds to expand high-speed Internet.
The Auditor's Office found that ICF International billed the state at rates as high as $255 an hour, even though the firm signed a contract to charge no more than $148 an hour.
"Basically, the company submitted four separate hourly rates, but the contract has only one hourly rate," said Justin Southern, spokesman for State Auditor Glen Gainer's office. "We pull every contract and read it to make sure the billing amount coincides with the price on the contract."
Burdette, who has past financial ties to ICF's lead consultant on the West Virginia contract, said he directed ICF on Monday to submit a new invoice with a fixed hourly rate at $148.
"It was a format error. That's all it was," Burdette said. "They didn't have a blended rate. They will resubmit."
Last month, ICF billed the state Development Office for 332 hours, which totaled $62,542.
ICF charged the state different hourly rates depending which employee worked on the West Virginia broadband contract -- two technical specialists at $100 an hour, a manager at $140 an hour, a senior technical specialist at $200 an hour, and two senior directors at $255 an hour.
The combined, or blended, rate for the six employees was $175 an hour.
At the higher hourly rate, ICF wound up billing the state for $9,000 more than the contract allows.
Two Department of Commerce administrators -- Deputy Secretary Angel Moore and Small Business Development Deputy Director Jamie Gaucher -- signed off on ICF's invoice and submitted it for payment to the Auditor's Office.
Moore and Gaucher served on the five-member review committee that awarded the contract to ICF at the $148 hourly rate.
ICF's $62,500 bill included $3,800 in travel expenses, which included airfare, mileage, meals, parking fees and lodging at the Charleston Marriott.
The company's consultants have held meetings with state officials in recent weeks, but the firm hasn't delivered any written reports, Burdette said.
ICF International spokesman Steve Anderson referred questions Monday to Gaucher at the Development Office.
Gaucher said ICF's cost proposal included different hourly rates for eight or nine employees, whose rates averaged $148 an hour.
ICF's first invoice exceeded that average because higher-paid employees have been working on the West Virginia contract in recent months, he said. ICF was expected to submit future invoices with lower hourly rates, so the final average rate would be $148 over the life of the contract, Gaucher said.