In the wake of the apparent purchase card abuse at Fairmont State University, along with the routers and towers controversy, we are seeing some movement toward reforming state purchasing rules.
State Purchasing Director David Tincher is proposing reforms to the purchasing laws. He is to be commended for stepping up to ensure that our laws are appropriately designed to guarantee that our tax dollars are spent properly. I wholeheartedly agree with his moves toward mandating training for state agency supervisors and purchasing officers.
I hope, however, that in our enthusiasm to eliminate dubious purchases, we do not impose restrictions that actually make the system worse than it is.
If we are not careful, we might create a purchasing system that requires every single purchase of equipment, supplies, and services to go through an expensive bidding process. And while this may sound great at one level, such a rigid system will lead to higher costs for state government.
A very high percentage of equipment, supplies, and services purchased by the government are standard commercial items. A roll of toilet paper, a ream of paper, a laptop computer, and an hour of engineering labor are items that can be bought and sold in bulk.
We are all aware of the savings to be had when buying in bulk. From Sam's Club to purchasing cooperatives, buyers are offered significant discounts by participating in these kinds of arrangements. And I would argue that the taxpayers should also get those discounts where they are available.
People familiar with federal purchasing arrangements know about the General Services Administration Schedule, where vendors guarantee their lowest prices to the federal government for a range of products and services. Purchasing agents can then buy from those schedules with confidence that the prices have already been checked.
West Virginia's education efficiency audit cited cooperative purchasing as one of the most effective ways of cutting costs. Indeed, tens of millions of dollars could be saved. The RESAs have already started implementing that recommendation, and the dollars saved are being re-invested at the local level.