This story was updated on Nov. 16.
State officials want to streamline Maryland’s procurement process, a move they say would make the system more efficient and the state a better business partner.
Under Maryland’s current system, different types of contracts are handled by different departments, but many other states use a central procurement office.
The state’s procurement officers handle the government’s contracts for all kinds of services and purchases — from office supplies to construction projects. Smaller purchases can be made at the discretion of the department, larger ones require competitive bidding.
The Board of Public Works on Wednesday approved a $150,000 contract for a California-based consulting firm to study state practices and develop an improvement plan.
“[We] may need to pay our procurement officers more in order to keep and retain them,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) at the board meeting. Further investment in information technology infrastructure also may be needed, he said.
O’Malley proposed a review of state procurement procedures in July, after the board had to revisit a service-contract award to run a child-support payment call center that contained math errors and conflicting call-volume estimates.
The review hopefully will suggest ways to reduce delays in the process, such as those brought about when agencies allow service contracts to expire before a new award is in place, said Mary Jo Childs, procurement adviser to the Board of Public Works. When that happens, the board must intervene, she said.
As a result, “the contracting community loses confidence in the way we do things,” Childs said. Businesses need to know “that they’re getting a fair shake when they deal with Maryland,” she said.
Treya Partners begins its 12-week review in December, during which it will assess the state’s needs, come up with recommendations and produce an implementation plan, said Mark Usher, a partner with the firm. Usher said his team will work with the state agencies and employees involved in procurement during the review.
Treya Partners has consulted with state governments in Oklahoma, Oregon, Indiana and Colorado on their procurement programs, Usher said.
Maryland’s system — like Colorado’s — is decentralized, meaning different state agencies are responsible for procuring contracts depending on the type, Childs said.
The Department of Budget and Management oversees service contracts, while the Department of General Services handles construction, and the Department of Information Technology takes care of computer systems, she said.
“In other jurisdictions, you have something akin to a [federal General Services Administration]; you’ll have one department that’s in charge of all procurements,” Childs said.
While delegating smaller purchases to individual departments is common, centralized procurement systems, with a single department and a well-trained procurement officer responsible for all of a state’s purchases, are generally considered a best practice, said Tina Borger, research director for the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing.
Geoffrey Hunt, president of the Hunt Reporting Co., said he’d like to see more consistency and knowledge of their field from state procurement officers. Hunt recently lost a contract award to provide court reporting services to the Office of Administrative Hearings, despite being the lowest bidder, and his appeal was denied.
“My industry is very unusual. Procurement officers know little about it,” Hunt said.
In many jurisdictions, there’s a tendency for officers to just follow what their predecessors have done; sometimes the low bidders are given preference, sometimes the full extent of a proposal is given weight, Hunt said.
O’Malley said he’d like to see any changes fully implemented by the end of 2014.
“We also want to be able to provide some job satisfaction for our procurement people,” Childs said. “We want to be able to keep them and keep them happy so they can do their jobs well.”