State procurement chief concedes ‘lax’ enforcement of bid process rules

Official plans to enforce the prohibition against communication between vendors and state employees

March 28, 2014 | 12:40 pm

After cancelling three bid requests because of questions about the irregularities, the director of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services conceded to lawmakers Wednesday the process “can stand some improvement.”

DAS Director Mike Carroll was called before the House-Senate Government Oversight Committee after lawmakers raised questions about bid requests for radio equipment for state agencies.

Among the concerns prompting Carroll’s cancellation of the bid process were complaints from state legislators and law enforcement radio vendors that bid requests for communication radios for various state agencies have been intentionally uncompetitive with unusually exacting specifications.

One request for proposals was not “vendor neutral,” Carroll told the committee March 13, and he announced new “rules of engagement.”

Actually, the rules aren’t new, “but we’ve been a little lax.” So he plans to enforce the prohibition against communication between vendors and any state employees other than the designated procurement officers.

Too often, he said, vendors approach employees in agencies in the process of buying goods or services in attempts to gain information that would improve their chances of winning bids.

From this point forward, such communication “is at their own peril,” Carroll said, and would be grounds for disqualification.

The policy applies to communication from lobbyists, lawmakers and vendors to state employees, Carroll said. Even when the questions come from lawmakers, they can be traced back to vendors, he said.

At the same time, Carroll will institute a process to allow vendors to have anonymous communication with DAS internal auditors. That communication would be made public, but without the vendor’s identity attached.

Also, there will be a two-week protest period for vendors to raise questions about the vendor-neutrality of requests for proposals or the procurement process. That protest period will occur before the contract awarded, rather than after, Carroll said.

Many questions lawmakers had for Carroll related to conflict of interest policies to prevent someone from leaving state employment to work for bidding on a state contract.

Chairwoman Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, asked for more information about conflict of interest policies to prevent someone from leaving state employment to work for bidding on a state contract.

“I think Oversight would be interested in putting stronger fences around that,” she told Carroll.

Comments:  (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@sourcemedia.net

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