State needs to reform purchasing policies

State Rep. Rick West hosted an interim study on Oklahoma’s Central Purchasing Act during a House Government Modernization Committee meeting. The study included presentations from three state agency representatives who claim mandatory state contracts force agencies to purchase items at a higher cost than what they could pay locally.

“I first learned about central purchasing concerns from agency employees in my district who were frustrated with the mandatory contracts,” said West, R-Heavener. “And if you find a problem at multiple agencies locally, there’s a good chance you’ll find the same problem elsewhere in our state. This practice of overpaying for basic items is unacceptable, and it has to stop.”

Speakers from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation appeared before committee members Tuesday saying policies put in place by the Office of Management & Enterprise Services (OMES) are inefficient and enable government waste.

“OMES is a good partner,” said Cathy Menefee, Chief Financial Officer for the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department. “But there is still work to be done.”

Menefee expressed frustration with mandatory contracts, but conceded there were ways around the traditional purchasing agreement. Ultimately, Menefee said obtaining exceptions for a multimillion state agency with dozens of locations across Oklahoma is “an onerous process.”

“Running government efficiently means reducing the administrative overhead. Decreased appropriations have led to lower staffing levels and we have less time to carry this administrative burden,” Menefee said. “We have to work to simplify the rules.”

OMES rebutted, saying the agency has not received any vendor complaints this year. State Central Purchasing Director Ferris Barger said agencies were losing sight of the smaller costs associated with procurement. He said there were simple steps state agencies could take to receive purchasing exceptions.

“If you’ve got to jump through fire and monkey hoops that you’ve created, then that’s what you’ve done,” Barger said.

West said agencies in his House district are forced to purchase standard items outside of LeFlore County. At least one contract requires purchases be made in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

West said rooting out government inefficiency is critical, especially when the state is trying to fill a substantial budget hole. Reforming central purchasing is a simple way the Legislature could redistribute control to local agencies and potentially save the state millions of dollars, he said.

“Sometimes we get so caught up in Oklahoma City that we lose sight of the big picture,” said West, R-Heavener. “Well, trimming fat so agencies can operate more fully within their means should always be the big picture.”