To bid or not to bid Government contracts: Officials can't take lightly need to bid non-emergency purchases.


An editorial yesterday incorrectly stated when Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger bought a Jeep outside bidding procedures. It was in the winter of 1995.

The Sun regrets the errors.

IT IS ALWAYS wise to keep an eye on government purchasing procedures. This area was a seedbed for corruption in Maryland decades ago. The rules on how public business must be conducted have gotten tougher since the days when the late Spiro Agnew demanded bribes from government contractors. Now, there are laws requiring competitive bids for nearly all work over $10,000 or $25,000.

Recently, The Sun has been looking at that small percentage of work which is not bid in Baltimore area counties to see if officials are using their discretion responsibly. The findings show that in most cases they are.

In Baltimore County, $11.4 million in projects was not competitively bid by county, state or federal governments from December 1994 through September 1996 -- a small chunk of the county's $1.4 billion annual budget. Moreover, the lion's share of the $11.4 million was for emergency spending ($821,000 for snow removal, for example) or because there were no other companies offering that specialized service.

The no-bid purchase of a Jeep for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger during the blizzard of '96, considered an emergency because Mr. Ruppersberger had no way to get around, inevitably raised eyebrows -- as it should have. Also disconcerting are no-bid awards that stem from shoddy planning -- repairs that could have been bid had department heads been attuned to a problem earlier.

The most objectionable no-bid issue recently occurred in Anne Arundel County, where Executive John G. Gary quietly gave the job of exploring a long-standing pension controversy to an attorney friend who was simultaneously representing a local taxpayers group suing the county over that very issue. Such cases illustrate why, except in rare situations where a vendor offers unique expertise, no-bid deals should be reserved for emergency or proprietary situations.

In Baltimore County, where officials have used discretion in awarding no-bid contracts, there is now a new policy as a result of Sun stories that requires bids on every non-emergency contract unless it can be documented that there are no other competitive vendors. This may actually cost taxpayers in delays and processing costs at times. But as a hedge against abuse of public money, it is worth the price.

Pub Date: 12/03/96

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