Better procurement practices could save Connecticut millions

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With the recent celebration of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln, we are reminded of his great story telling, which he used brilliantly to make a point, and to simplify an issue for easy understanding.

Now imagine yourself with Lincoln discussing the fiscal woes of Connecticut. Soon Lincoln sits back, stretches his long legs before him and begins telling a story about a farmer and his land.

The farm was on land that was fairly dry and irrigation of the fields was required to make the land productive. For a few years the farmer irrigated his fields with great success.

But after several years the irrigation pipes began to leak. At first the leaks were barely noticeable. As time passed, more small leaks continued to sprout to the point where the leaks caused the water source to run dry.

The farmer had to fix the leaks but knew he couldn’t do it by himself. He called his farm workers together, trained them, and gave them the tools and supplies needed to patch the pipes and stop the leaks. Once the leaks were fixed, enough water was saved from leaking to make the farmer’s land productive again.

The State Contracting Standards Board’s Data Analysis Work Group recently issued a report of Findings and Recommendations – Study of Competitive Bidding Practices, the findings and recommendations made in our report are similar to the solution employed by the farmer in Lincoln’s story.

The solution is to provide the tools, resources and training to state employees to stop the leaks of taxpayer funds. Like the first leaks in an irrigation pipe, the leaks of funds in contracting were barely noticeable and didn’t seem to be a big deal. But Connecticut is at a point where the leaks are a big deal.

The State Contracting Standards Board, of which we are members, was created as a watchdog organization to review and recommend improvements in the procedures used by the State of Connecticut to purchase goods and services.

We have completed an in-depth study of State procurement procedures and have found significant opportunities for improved efficiencies to save the state a significant amount of money. Deficiencies found included an appalling lack of competitive bidding on contracts (55 percent of all open contracts and 73 percent of personal services agreements did not have competition), a lax approach to the waiver process which is intended to allow exemption from seeking competition, and a lack of desire in securing knowledge transfer to state employees.

Implementing the changes contained in our findings may save the state, and the taxpayers of Connecticut, an estimated $174 to $264 million annually. Legislation should be passed mandating competitive bidding on all POS and PSA contracts. The State Contracting Standards Board should be empowered to lead the development of updated procurement regulations; implement a process to measure results; report on compliance; provide leadership for continuing improvements in procurement practices; and develop and implement a world-class procurement staff training and certification program.

The State Contracting Standards Board is willing and poised to help the State of Connecticut spend less and spend better. Additional staff skill-sets are needed to realize the savings to the state, but the payback is tremendous: we believe that every $1 we invest in additional staff skill-sets will result in $268 in savings annually to the State of Connecticut.

Alfred Bertoline and Bruce Buff are members of the State Contracting Standards Board.


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