In January, when his client Continental Service Group Inc. was again turned down for a contract to collect overdue student loans, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman partner Todd J. Canni did not hide his displeasure with the U.S. Education Department.

Speaking to a Washington Post reporter, Canni criticized the Education Department’s decision-making and singled out a company that, he said, should not have prevailed over his client and other competing bidders for contract work worth upward of $400 million: Performant Financial Corp.