A legislative analyst told a state Senate committee yesterday that Maryland's request for bids for a lucrative new vehicle emissions testing contract does not appear to favor one potential bidder over another, despite accusations to the contrary from the firm that now has the contract.
"From our information, the incumbent and other operators appear to have equal opportunity to the procurement award," Beverley Swaim-Staley, an analyst for the General Assembly's Department of Fiscal Services, told the Budget and Taxation Committee.
Officials representing Envirotest Systems Corp., the Bethesda-based company that purchased Maryland's 10 testing stations in April, have charged that the Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the Department of Transportation in June includes requirements that render obsolete most, if not all, of its existing sites, buildings and equipment.
Michael F. Canning, a lobbyist for Envirotest, said after yesterday's briefing in Annapolis that the legislative analysis was fair but did not address the company's specific concerns.
"We've maintained that some of the requirements in the RFP are artificial barriers that make it more difficult for the current vendor to use his facilities," he said.
"That was not cleared up, not discussed here."
Committee members did complain about some of the requirements in the bid request, including a proposal that the state spend between $30 million and $60 million to buy the testing facilities once they are built. Only through state ownership, transportation officials believe, can the state assure itself of competitive bids the next time the contract comes up for renewal.
Senators also contested requirements that each of the new facilities have a brick facade, keep two supervisors on duty regardless of the size of the station and have waiting rooms built so that drivers can watch their cars while they are being tested.
"Sounds like a sky box," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington. Such requirements, senators said, will only add to the construction cost, which in turn will increase the fees motorists must pay to have their vehicles tested.
But Sen. Laurence Levitan, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the committee, said despite legislative objections, there is little the General Assembly can do about the RFP. He said neither the full Senate nor the House of Delegates was likely to get involved in a procurement process that is an Executive Department function.
Black legislators -- including the majority leader of the Senate and the chairman of the House budget committee -- have been critical of the transportation department, saying it tilted the RFP against Envirotest, a company whose chairman is black.
In response to such criticism, Gov. William Donald Schaefer said he intends to appoint a seven-member committee to analyze the bids once they are received in mid-January.
"That's the key," said Senator Levitan.
"Have someone look at the bids who is squeaky clean."