“This system only works if state purchasing officers are using the technology to ensure the data works,” Murphey said.
“The opportunity for the vendor to aggressively price in certain circumstances is there. We've put a lot of attention on reform in that area and ensuring the purchasing officers who work with state vendors are aggressively renegotiating on these contracts.”
Leonard Hymel, president of Sysco's Oklahoma facility, said that the price differences could simply be a case of market fluctuation. If one facility orders a crate of apples at the beginning of the week and another orders the same crate at the end, the prices may vary.
“Our prices change,” Hymel said. “We purchase weekly, sometimes multiple times a week depending on the product, and that can be different due to marketing conditions.”
Charley Wilson, a spokesman for Sysco's corporate offices in Houston, added that perishable items such as poultry and produce can vary in price during specific times of the year because of demand and market conditions.
Sysco signed a contract with the state of Oklahoma in October 2009 to provide food for 181 state agencies until August 2015.
Murphey acknowledged that the price variation could be explained easily, but emphasized the need to confirm that no wrongdoing is taking place.
“If those concerns are valid, we ask if they are real anomalies or systemwide,” Murphey said. “If they're systemwide it's a big, big deal.”
Murphey said the next step is to meet with officials in the Central Purchasing Division, the department within Oklahoma Management and Enterprise Services that provides oversight on the state's procurement activities, to get a better understanding of how they monitor such contracts.
According to John Estus, spokesman for Oklahoma Management and Enterprise Services, those contracts are reviewed quarterly, and it is up to the individual agencies to bring any concerns about them to the attention of his office.
He said that he has received no complaints from the Corrections Department regarding the state's food vendor contract with Sysco.
It is possible for individual agencies to request to make purchases outside of state contracts if they feel a better deal can be made and money saved.
Murphey said he believes that regardless of how central purchasing oversees the contracts, if the program were to be implemented on a statewide level it may offer agencies a chance to save additional funds by monitoring purchases at the ground level.