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Louisiana utility regulators ramp up cybersecurity spending with questionable contractor

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

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

McQuaig has personal and professional ties to Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, R-Metairie, who is also an attorney. The couple have co-founded two non-profit organizations and have provided legal services to one another over the years.

Prior to his election to the Commission in 2008, Skrmetta served as McQuaig’s attorney on several civil matters. And in 2016, McQuaig worked as Skrmetta’s notary public to set up a trust fund for Skrmetta’s children, according to records kept by the Office of the Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court.

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

The Louisiana Public Service Commission awards contracts to a man with a suspended statutory license

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

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

McQuaig, who could not be reached by phone for comment and did not respond to an email, has been doing commissioned work for the Commission since 2013.

“Let me say that,” Campbell said. “I questioned Mr. McQ… So I’m skeptical about giving someone another $60,000 or $80,000… I haven’t had the best experience with his honesty and truthfulness, but that’s beside the point. That was another topic.”

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