State awarding record numbers of no-bid contracts

2013-08-30T04:01:00Z 2013-08-31T06:27:40Z State awarding record numbers of no-bid contractsBy KURT ERICKSON - H&R Springfield Bureau Chief Herald-Review.com

SPRINGFIELD — The Quinn administration set a dubious record in the most-recent fiscal year.

According to the state’s main purchasing oversight board, officials approved more than $135 million in no-bid emergency purchases during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The figure is more than $34 million higher than the previous fiscal year and a whopping 300 percent higher than what was seen during the final year of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s tenure.

The tally could mean taxpayers aren’t getting the best deal when the state goes out to buy items ranging from food to garbage trucks to flashing lights for police cars.

Typically, the state sends its purchases out for bid to get the lowest price.

Sometimes, however, an unexpected need arises. Recently, for example, the Illinois State Police and other agencies had to scramble to purchase goods and services to help implement the state’s new concealed weapons law. They also may have to declare an emergency if, for example, a tornado damages the roof of a prison.

But in an increasing number of other cases, human error, a lack of employees or “general incompetence” appears to be at work, said Ed Bedore, a member of the state’s Procurement Policy Board.

The Illinois Department of Corrections, for example, recently had to make a no-bid emergency purchase of $15,000 for hot dog seasoning to be used at the Menard Correctional Center meat shop.

The reason: The prior contract for wiener spices had expired and a new contract wasn’t yet in place.

The situation has drawn the ire of Bedore, who has publicly complained about the situation in recent meetings of the board, which monitors state purchasing.

“It’s really sad. I don’t know if its incompetence or a lack of personnel,” said Bedore, who previously served as the budget chief for the city of Chicago.

“Do the agencies not care? Are they complacent? There is something wrong here. Every year, it is increasing,” Bedore told his colleagues at a recent meeting.

Matt Brown, the state’s chief procurement officer, acknowledged a lack of manpower in some agencies might be playing a role, but he said ensuring that contracts don’t expire without a new contract in place is a matter of good planning.

This year, in hopes of breaking the cycle, he is sending out a memo a month earlier than usual asking state agencies to list all of the contracts that will be coming up for renewal this year.

“If the agency doesn’t tee it up with enough time for a contract to be approved, then we get stuck,” Brown said.

In a statement, Gov. Pat Quinn’s assistant budget director said the administration is seeking ways to reduce the no-bid contracts.

“Emergency procurements should be used, by definition, only in emergencies, when required to meet the state’s obligations under the law to provide certain goods and services,” Abdon Pallasch said.

He said the largest share of the emergency contracts have been in the Department of Health and Family Services and are related to employee health care expenses.

It remains unclear how much more money the state has spent on goods and services because of the problem.

Brown said there is definitely an added cost.

“We’re not getting the benefit of what competition might yield,” Brown said.

State Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat who chairs the House State Government Administration Committee, said the situation must be addressed.

“We’re not getting the best deals because of poor management by the governor,” Franks said.

kurt.erickson@lee.net|(217) 782-4043

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