Inspector general post suggested Senate chief wants contract watchdog

September 15, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

The president of the state Senate asked a legislative task force yesterday to consider whether Maryland needs an inspector general's office to monitor the way state contracts are awarded.

Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said it appeared to him that the Maryland attorney general's office faces an inherent conflict of interest regarding enforcement of state procurement laws.

On the one hand, Mr. Miller said, the attorney general is expected to enforce the laws governing how the state buys various goods and services, but on the other is charged with defending individual state agencies when their procurement practices are challenged.

"The attorney general can't effectively play both roles," Mr. Miller said as he opened the first meeting of a new Joint Task Force on Maryland's Procurement Law. He said he was not necessarily recommending the creation of an independent inspector general, but that he wanted the task force to consider the issue.

Mr. Miller and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, have asked the panel to review Maryland's procurement laws and recommend any necessary changes to restore public confidence that state contracts are awarded fairly.

The task force was created after a series of controversial contracts for, among other things, lottery computers, MedEvac helicopters and administration of the state's vehicle emissions testing stations. Critics have charged that some contract awards have been tainted by interference from special interest lobbyists, legislators or others.

"We want to make sure that voters out there are certain our [procurement] laws are on the up and up," Mr. Mitchell said.

At the task force's first meeting yesterday, wide-ranging concerns and complaints were aired:

* Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, suggested that "anecdotal evidence" indicates that requests for bids may sometimes be written so narrowly that only certain firms can possibly qualify, thus dictating the outcome.

* Assistant Attorney General William H. Kahn, principal counsel for the contract litigation unit, said many state agencies treat their procurement responsibilities as "a clerical or mechanical matter," often assigning the job to someone as a secondary duty.

He complained that there is no centralized training offered to agency procurement officers, and that some procurement practices, such as the point systems used in evaluating technical proposals, often vary between agencies.

* Scott A. Livingston, a Washington lawyer with extensive knowledge of Maryland procurement law, said that too many state contracts are awarded on a "sole source" basis, in which officials declare that only one company is capable of providing certain goods or services.

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