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Senate panel to review purchasing laws Public distrust prompts Miller to investigate contracts

August 05, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

John R. Stierhoff, counsel to the Senate, said there are no plans at present to seek subpoena power for the committee.

EXAMPLES OF PROCUREMENT CONTROVERSIES

In calling for an examination of the state's procurement law yesterday, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said the following transactions are among those that strike him as

troublesome:

Shock Trauma helicopters The state's purchase in 1988 of six MedEvac helicopters for its emergency medical evacuation system sparked a full-blown battle of lobbyists, blue ribbon procurement panels and others. Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed a panel chaired by Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg to handle the selection. But the controversy raged on, spurred by letter-writing campaignsand the involvement of former Rep. Jim Wright of Texas, then speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Aerospatiale, a French firm that assembled its copters in Texas, won the $25.9 million battle with Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and several other

competitors.

Lottery Equipment In a similarly contentious atmosphere, the state Lottery Agency bought computers in 1990 from the GTECH Corp. When the state later bought equipment for its new keno game from GTECH without seeking other bids, the U.S. Attorney for Maryland announced an investigation. State officials argued that any vendor other than GTECH "would have to invest a significant amount of time and money to duplicate part or all of the (existing GTECH) system." The costs of that duplication, officials contended, would have been passed on to the state.

Emissions control The state on July 7 awarded a $96.9 million contract for building and equipping 19 emissions inspection stations to MARTA, a subsidiary of the Ohio-based Allen Group Inc. MARTA was judged the best contender by a panel appointed by Governor Schaefer last fall to oversee a procurement in which most of the applicants had political connections and all but one had hired a lobbyist. The state contends it defused the political pressure. But as part of MARTA's proposal, it picked Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., headed by longtime Schaefer ally Willard Hackerman, to build the stations. While the award decision was being made, two black Baltimore legislators, Del. Howard P. Rawlings and Sen. Clarence W. Blount, were urging the Department of Transportation to keep the incumbent company, Envirotest, a minority-owned firm.

Deferred compensation The 401(k) retirement savings plan for state workers was awarded to Public Employees Benefit Services Corp. in 1990 without competitive bids. The state did seek bids for the contract in 1992, but only PEBSCO submitted a proposal. One potential competitor, the Copeland Companies, said the bid specifications made it impossible for a firm other than PEBSCO to make a profit.

Home detention A company owned by lobbyist Maurice R. "Mo" Wyatt has an exclusive contract for selling home-detention equipment manufactured by Vorec Corp., which recently sold the state $1.2 million worth of the devices. No other bids were sought. The equipment is used to keep track of prisoners who are confined in their homes. Mr. Wyatt, 51, is the one-time patronage chief for former Gov. Marvin Mandel.

Fiber optics

This summer, C&P Telephone Co. of Maryland announced it had secretly negotiated an agreement with the state to build a high technology, fiber optics network connecting every high school and college in the state. The high-capacity cables linking the schools would permit them to use interactive video to broadcast classes, performances or other events in one part of the state to students in several locations in other parts of the state. Although the agreement was sanctioned by the governor's office and the Public Service Commission, the cable television industry and some legislators have questioned whether the cable network should have been put out for competitive bids. Schaefer administration officials have said no bidding was necessary because no contract exists: The schools are not required to participate, and so must pay fees to tap into the network only if they choose.

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