Wire It Now

July 07, 1993

For every pithy aphorism, there is an equal but opposite saying. "Haste maketh waste," John Heywood wrote in a collection of colloquial sayings published in 1546. "Do it now," replies William Donald Schaefer. Who's right, Mr. Heywood or Mr. Schaefer? The governor's impatience has produced much good, but it also can lead to quick actions that might not be for the best.

The latest example is the state's deal with C&P Telephone to build a fiber optic network connecting schools and colleges. C&P would pay for wiring and provide schools with cameras and other equipment. Schools would pay $1,365 a month for the first three years, $2,730 thereafter -- rates calculated to allow C&P to recover its cost.

At Mr. Schaefer's urging to move quickly, state school officials have signed on as boosters without ironing out many of the details needed to make the system live up to its potential. Local school officials have expressed enthusiasm, without being sure how the system would work and apparently without weighing the benefits against the cost.

But beyond the educational issues, there are important questions about the process used -- a process in which the governor's demand for velocity overrode concerns about things such as competitive bidding. The Cable Television Association of Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia, a business rival of C&P, says it wants the chance to offer the state its own proposal.

State officials are probably right that since there is no state contract with C&P (individual schools buy the service), there is no legal requirement for competitive bidding. They may even be right that C&P could produce the best system quickest at the best price. But in dealing exclusively with C&P, the state misses a chance to see if someone else could do it better or quicker or cheaper.

If the state sought competitive proposals, one of two things would happen: (1) Somebody would offer a better deal, or (2) C&P would offer the best deal, and the state would move ahead, with the process delayed by several months.

Sometimes, when the state rushes to deal with one supplier to the exclusion of others, there is a justifiable reason for haste. What is the reason this time? The minutes of the state's Information Technology Board (ITB) supply the answer: "Sixty percent of the network is to be in place by the end of calendar year 1994," say the minutes for May 24, "which will satisfy the requirement that the work of the ITB be irreversible by the end of the Governor's second term. This information is known only to the ITB, the Governor and C&P."

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