Ehrlich orders purchasing probe at Port Administration

`Terrible negligence' seen in no-bid job

July 08, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. ordered a detailed inquiry yesterday of purchasing irregularities at the Maryland Port Administration that resulted in a computer company receiving $1.2 million since 1995 without submitting a competitive bid for the work.

"This is terrible negligence here," Ehrlich said.

State transportation officials say they only recently discovered problems surrounding an agreement between the port and a computer services vendor, Gaithersburg-based Global eXchange Services, which has operated a component of a cargo tracking system since 1995.

Nine years ago, officials say, a purchasing official overstepped his authority and signed an agreement with the company without seeking a competitive bid.

The company has been paid since then through purchase orders ranging between $10,000 to $24,000, said Cheryl E. Taylor, the port's finance chief.

That's just under a $25,000 threshold that triggers a more thorough level of approval by the state Board of Public Works, which comprises the governor, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. The public works board was briefed yesterday about the purchasing problem

Assistant Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr. said the problem was traced to a former port purchasing official who no longer works with the agency, but who has taken a position with another branch of state government.

Warren Wright, a procurement specialist with the public works board, said he contacted the employee but did not receive an acceptable explanation.

"Don't you think you ought to have the attorney general investigate it?" Schaefer asked.

"You did a good job uncovering it, but you didn't follow through."

The purchasing disclosure comes after recent procurement problems uncovered at Maryland Public Television and the Maryland Stadium Authority.

"This is a disturbing fact pattern that we have now seen three or four times," Ehrlich said.

"Our staff will now begin a thorough review, with more detailed questions."

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