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Tomblin pushes purchasing reform, government efficiency

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Reforming the way West Virginia spends taxpayer money and increasing government efficiency are key components of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's 2014 legislative agenda.

Changes in purchasing policy and procedures are a key component of that agenda, Tomblin said Wednesday during his State of the State address.

"As we continue to plan we know it is more important than ever to eliminate government waste," Tomblin said.

"That's why I will be proposing legislation reforming our purchasing laws to ensure that every dollar of state money is spent with the proper oversight to achieve the best value."

Although the speech was light on details, Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said the planned legislation lays out several important changes.

"The main point is this: the bill will clarify what contracts will be competitively bid," Goodwin said after the speech.

The bill will also explain what state grants fall under state purchasing laws and clarify definitions for "commodities" and "services," two of the more typical purchases by the state, Goodwin said.

Secondary bidding, or the process of subcontracting, will also have limits. A bid winner can only submit secondary bids of up to $50,000 for commodities and up to $1 million for "information technology," Goodwin said. 

The bill also offers more enforcement powers to state purchasing officials and "expands criminal penalties to individuals who undermine the fair and competitive bidding process," Goodwin said.

Many of the changes come as a direct result of questions arising from the state's administration of a massive federal grant intended to improve access to broadband Internet in West Virginia.

Decisions on how to spend a $126 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant have been highly scrutinized. In September Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred said the state sidestepped purchasing laws in spending $38 million of the grant on communications towers.

"Clearly, what was illegal is that they didn't bid the contract out as required by the Government Contract Act," Allred said at the time. "That's clear. They simply broke the law."

Allred and federal officials also questioned the $24 million spent on massive routers. Many of the routers were far too large for their intended locations, according to a different report from Allred.

Legislative leadership from both sides of the aisle pointed to the grant implementation issues as a key reason for purchasing reform. Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, and House Minority Leader Tim Armstead all agreed serious changes in purchasing policy are needed.

A different purchasing reform measure from the governor passed the Senate last year but failed to make it out of the House, Kessler pointed out. He thought this year's bill had a better chance of making it through the entire Legislature given increased attention on the broadband grant problems.

"I fully expect a purchasing reform bill to pass," Kessler said.

Enforcement is a serious concern in the purchasing process, Miley said. He supports the idea of giving more teeth to purchasing law in order to insure the rules are followed.

"There was a knowing insubordination of following the appropriate rules," Miley said, in reference to the audit report on the communications towers.

"It doesn't matter how many rules you have on the books, if they're not going to be followed it doesn't make any difference."

Reviewing bids for their legitimacy needs to be a component of any purchasing reform, Armstead said.

"You can't have any of this idea that you can split up projects into smaller pieces so that they're exempt from these procedures," Armstead said.

The bill gets into greater detail about the policies and makes other technical changes, Goodwin said. She didn't immediately know if the measure would start in the House or the Senate.

A move to eliminate unnecessary boards and commissions is another facet of Tomblin's push for more government efficiency.

"Because of this commitment to a good, responsive and efficient government, I have identified a number of boards, commissions, and councils that no longer operate, but linger on the books creating ambiguity and clutter," Tomblin said.

"I plan to dissolve many of these groups by executive order, and I will submit legislation to eliminate the rest of these obsolete boards."

Goodwin said dozens of boards will be eliminated. Most require legislation to be dissolved, but Goodwin said more than a 15 could be eliminated with executive order.

She said this did not specifically address an ongoing concern amongst some state board officials asking to fill long vacant positions.

"Does the governor still have appointments to make? Absolutely," Goodwin said.

Other new announcements include:

-- Creating an "In-Home Care registry." The online network, established by the state Bureau for Senior Services at the request of the governor, provides information about any type of in-home care service in every county but Pocahontas County, Goodwin said. The state vets the people included on the list while providers can list resumes for the benefit of potential customer, Goodwin said. Care providers can list their services on the registry without cost for 60 days, with a nominal fee going into affect after that, she said.

-- The state is opening new "detox stabilization units" throughout the state to help with treatment for substance abuse. Tomblin touted substance abuse initiatives from last year -- including advocating for treatment for offenders -- while pointing to a 300-inmate decrease in the corrections system in the last year.

-- The governor wants legislation to make it easier for military spouses to retain licensing or professional permits they might have obtained in different states.

-- Tomblin reinstituted the Interagency Council on Homelessness. A recent federal report stated there are 2,240 homeless people in West Virginia, 170 fewer than last year. There are 329 homeless veterans though, 27 more than last year. West Virginia was one of the few states to see such an increase, and Tomblin mentioned initiatives by the West Virginia Veterans Home and other providers to address the problem.

The majority of Tomblin's annual address focused on economic development successes in the past year. He highlighted a $20 million expansion by Allevard Sogefi USA in Prichard and the millions in investments planned by coal-industry company Carbonyx in Jackson County. The proposed cracker plant project in Wood County from Odebrecht, and the expansions of local automotive suppliers Gestamp in South Charleston and the Toyota plant in Buffalo were also championed. The 2014 legislative session started Wednesday.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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