LEGISLATION advanced in 2013 could reduce back-room shenanigans that may have cost Oklahoma taxpayers millions in inflated government contracts. Ironically, that reform was itself almost negated because legislators engaged in some closed-door dealings of their own.
Last year Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, and Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, filed Senate Bill 630 to enact regulations targeting “sole-source specing” on government construction projects. In many cases, officials reportedly write construction specifications so narrowly that only one business qualifies for a contract. This eliminates competition and results in higher costs.
Murphey calls the practice “one of the worst abuses of the taxpayer dollar that I have seen.” Sadly, this abuse appears common. In 2011, a KWTV-9 investigation reported that narrowly written specifications may have inflated roofing prices paid by Tulsa schools by as much as $5.6 million since 2008. Murphey said one school in his district was poised to waste up to $700,000 before adverse publicity forced rewriting of bid specifications.
State Auditor Gary Jones supported the bill, saying his office had “received numerous complaints from various residents regarding, in particular, school roofing contractors which appear to single out a specific vendor to the exclusion of suppliers of similar quality and design. In many instances, districts appear to have paid significantly more for what has been described as the ‘Cadillac of roofs' when a less expensive alternative was squeezed out by either narrowly drawn bid specifications or purported sole-source contracts.”
Even some contractors supported the bill, upset that competitors were effectively stealing jobs. “We were seeking only ‘fairness' and an opportunity to compete for our own tax dollars,” Ron Solomon, director of the Roof Consultant's Alliance, said in a written statement. “Doesn't seem that unreasonable, does it?”
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