Shredding the Procurement Law

June 16, 1993

Maryland's Board of Public Works seems intent on shredding the procurement laws implemented in the post-Mandel-Agnew era to protect the public against sole-source contracts that wind up benefiting the politically well-connected.

The three-member board recently awarded a $1.2 million non-bid contract to a firm with close ties to ex-Mandel lobbyist Maurice R. Wyatt. It gives the Wyatt-connected firm a lock on all future state purchases of home-detention equipment for Maryland prisons.

This is not the first time that the powerful board, consisting of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and Treasurer Lucille D. Maurer, has sanctioned an end-run around the procurement laws. GTECH won the lottery vendor contract a year ago when lobbyist Bruce Bereano got his friend the governor to alter the normal bidding process. That same company gained a lucrative add-on this past winter when the board approved a no-bid contract for all of the state's keno computer equipment.

And now Vorec Corp. has won a no-bid contract to provide 600 home-detention sets for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. The company also will be paid 50 cents a day for each device -- probably for years and years to come (adjusted upward each year to account for inflation, too).

State officials said Vorec's is the best system available and that buying the equipment will save Maryland $1.1 million over leasing the electronic detention units. But if that's the case, how come the state's Department of Juvenile Services leases its home-detention equipment from a different supplier? And if this is such a great deal for the state, why does the Vorec equipment cost $1,400 a unit while the DJS home-detention units cost only $725 each?

Mr. Schaefer, Mr. Goldstein and Ms. Maurer made a mistake when they started approving deals that avoid the tried-and-true competitive bidding process set out in state law. Maryland's procurement law had been a model for other states. Now, that same law is in tatters, easily circumvented by companies (and lobbyists) with political clout. The Vorec contract is just another illustration of a scandal waiting to happen.

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