Ethics rules for state contracts Governor's order: Review of health-care bidding practices only part of problem.

March 11, 1998

WITH CONTROVERSIES swirling around two lucrative state health-care contracts, it came as no surprise that Gov. Parris N. Glendening would set up a commission to review and tighten Maryland's ethics procedures.

But the governor's directive, responding to a legislative ethics committee recommendation, ignores major contracts in other fields where intense lobbying by legislators has occurred.

The current stir revolves around the role of former Sen. Larry Young -- and to an extent the governor -- in a bid by Merit Behavioral Care Corp. to win a $25 million mental-health contract. A flap also has arisen over Mr. Young's work on behalf of PrimeHealth to win a health contract that so far has been worth $14.5 million. It's only natural that the governor would try to fix what appears to be broken.

Yet the same unseemly practices that led to this commission occur in other procurement areas, too. There have been huge controversies over the roles of legislators and executive- branch officials in awarding the state lottery computer contract and the vehicle emissions-testing contract. The entire procurement arena needs a thorough cleansing.

A quick way exists to do that, without a lengthy delay and great expense. The governor could ask the state's procurement adviser to investigate the situation and work with the Procurement Advisory Council to remove sleaze from this process.

The procurement adviser works for the Board of Public Works and can "conduct investigations into procurement policies, practices, and procedures." The council advises the board "on problems in the procurement process," and can make recommendations.

Why not turn to the experts for remedial steps? Why wait a year?

We applaud Mr. Glendening for recognizing the need to ensure that no more ethics violations mar health-care contracts. However, he is taking the long route to fix only a part of the problem. Action should be taken immediately to restore the public's confidence in all government contracting decisions.

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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