The presidents of the University of Illinois and Illinois State were pressed by committee members to suggest how much procurement laws were costing universities. UI President Robert Easter said he had heard one estimate that it cost the UI $70 million a year in waste and inefficiency in the purchase of equipment, supplies and services.
Sen. Chapin Rose of Mahomet said "The governor's entire life has been taking over a company and making it more efficient. This is the kind of stuff that drives him nuts."
Ben Bagby, the state's chief procurement officer for higher education, acknowledged that changes "absolutely" are needed. "There are too many situations where we have to qualify a vendor before they submit a bid and if they make a mistake, because the way the law is written, we have to disqualify them. That means we go to the next high vendor. Sometimes we've reached up to the 10th vendor before we can get somebody who actually meets all the requirements of the procurement code. I'm not talking about whether they have a good product or a good price or not, but just the basic statutory requirements."
"These issues we're having with higher ed are the same issues the (state) agencies are having," Bagby said. "There definitely is a cost to the state of Illinois to disqualify vendors or to rebid. Or just the lack of competition because it is so difficult. It does make it more difficult for us to get full and open competition and the best price from the market."I think it is important to remember that good governance requires full time procurement accountability, and not just from government but from the private sector participants. It should not be seen as something to pull off a shelf for political shellacking. It's hard work, and someone's got to do it, or governance will deteriorate. It sounds to me like some training and education would go a long way to helping staff and vendors learn the ropes.
In one case, Bagby said, "Eastern Illinois University told me that at one time in one procurement they lost $230,000 because of these particular types of issues. It's usually the inability of the vendor to qualify or to understand the documents or the law itself. It's very complicated."
It's worth noting that the tougher procurement laws were reform measures instituted in the aftermath of the conviction of former Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.
"There was a cost to the state from corruption, and the fact that the process wasn't thoroughly reviewed and didn't go through the scrutiny it should have gone through," noted Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge. "When we have situations where we have previous governors who were indicted and convicted, we take steps to remedy the problem. Sometimes we may overcompensate for that.
"But there was a cost that was never really indicated to taxpayers in the fact that these contracts were being given out. I remember the testimony on the Senate floor about people writing their own requirements for RFPs due to the fact that they had given a campaign contribution."
Rose agreed. "Did we need procurement reform after Blagojevich? Hell yes, we needed it," he said. But we need a trailer bill to fix the problems from that procurement bill.