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.