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Misleading, unclear, puzzling.

Those terms all apply to Gov. Mike Parson’s hiring in a no-bid deal a Virginia-based consulting firm to help Missouri handle the coronavirus pandemic.

It is misleading given the governor’s early statements on the deal. In early May, Parson said the Missouri Foundation for Health would pay up to $600,000 to the McChrystal Group to help the state manage the public health emergency. Parson did not mention that the state would take over the payments on May 31, using the emergency federal aid. Maybe he thought we weren’t paying attention, given the rising death rate and scuffles over local closures and mask bans.

It is unclear what the group is doing to earn its pay and why. If the no-bid contract is justified, the governor didn’t announce it at the time. Missouri has spent more than $1.5 billion of the approximately $2 billion it has received as part of the federal aid to respond to the pandemic. Up to $1.3 million of the total — $829,000 so far — will go to the management group in a sweetheart deal that isn’t producing any clear result beyond enriching the McChrystal Group.

The governor at first said the group was going to help track and analyze medical data in the state because data from the national level was unreliable and contradictory. Because the firm doesn’t actually do that, his administration later said the group was helping the state provide a management structure to coordinate a pandemic response between state agencies and the governor’s Cabinet. That statement sounds good but doesn’t give a clear idea what the work entails.

Parson finally landed on this vague statement: “Having outside resources to come in and help us through this was one of the better things we’ve done at the time. They’ve been very valuable.”

It is puzzling what, if anything, has actually been accomplished given that the state response has largely been to tell the counties and cities to deal with the pandemic. If the McChrystal Group is so helpful, why are we one of the worst states in the nation for virus spread? Why, if the state defers decisions and actions to the county and city level, is the McChrystal Group even needed? To develop a school plan? A plan for colleges and universities? That plan is essentially no plan, so it wasn’t that.

The governor’s statements so far have not been satisfactory, and the matter requires investigation. The deal is more than questionable. It is troubling.

The whole thing looks bad and smells worse.

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