The Times West Virginian

October 23, 2013

Purchasing reforms proposed following audits over broadband

Associated Press

CHARLESTON — State purchasing director David Tincher is proposing reforms in purchasing laws following audits of the state’s use of federal stimulus funding for a broadband project.

The proposals include giving the state purchasing director the power to halt questionable contracts, and requiring the Purchasing Division to handle state agency purchases for projects funded by federal grants.

The Charleston Gazette reports that Tincher presented his proposals on Monday to a joint legislative interim committee that is examining state purchasing rule changes.

“Someone needs to be ‘the buck stops here,”’  said Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, who heads the committee. “You need the authority to step in.”

An audit by the Legislative Auditor’s Office found that the purchase of high-capacity Internet routers for small public facilities wasted at least $7.9 million.

A follow-up report said that purchasing laws were circumvented for a microwave tower project designed to improve emergency communications. The report also said state officials ignored a directive to stop construction of the towers.

“There isn’t a central agency that defines grants and has internal rules about this,” Tincher told the committee.

He said his office learned about the tower project and contract from media accounts.

Other reforms proposed by Tincher include expanding the state’s bribery law, transferring individual state agency purchasing officers to the Purchasing Division, limiting the list of state agencies exempt from the purchasing office, and increasing the number of audits of state agency purchasing practices.

The bribery law penalizes purchasing division employees and state agency purchasing officers if they break the law. Tincher suggested that other high-ranking state administrators who take part in purchasing decisions and violate rules also face penalties. Those officials could be held personally liable and face bribery charges if they receive kickbacks, according to Tincher’s list of possible purchasing changes.

He also proposed mandating training for state agency supervisors and purchasing officers and revising state law so that purchasing rules apply to services provided by companies, not just equipment and supplies sold to the state.