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West Virginia House committee loosens government purchasing purse strings

During his State of the State address in January before lawmakers, Gov. Jim Justice demonstrated the complicated state procurement process with a gigantic flow chart. (Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Governor’s Office)

CHARLESTON — Heeding the call from Gov. Jim Justice in January to make state government purchasing easier, a West Virginia House of Delegates recommended a bill doing just that.

The House Government Organization Committee recommended House Bill 4499 for passage Monday afternoon. The bill’s next stop is the House Judiciary Committee.

HB 4499 is being introduced on behalf of the governor to make the state procurement process more efficient by giving more authority to state agencies to handle their own purchasing with the state Purchasing Division serving in more of an advisory role.

The bill would give discretion to the Purchasing Division whether to require competitive bidding for certain purchases by agencies. It would also empower the director of purchasing to exempt certain transactions or transaction categories from purchasing regulations. It also eliminates fees that vendors wishing to do business with the state had to pay.

The bill would allow state agencies to handle their own procurement for commodities as long as the cost doesn’t exceed $25,000, with the Purchasing Division able to increase the maximum amount up to $100,000 at discretion of the director of purchasing.

Justice first proposed reforming the state purchasing processes during his postponed State of the State address. He had state workers hold up a flow chart showing the process state agencies use when making large purchases, with the flow chart extending across the front of the House of Delegates chamber.

“This is the flow chart that shows the process of getting a contract through our state purchasing department,” Justice said. “That was created so we would not waste. Honest to God, that’s the truth. That’s why it was created, so we would not waste. It’s a beatin’est thing I have ever seen.”

Justice said his office had reached out to Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia to learn ways to better improve the way state government purchases goods.

“The Toyota production support systems — a world leader in efficiency — has agreed to help us streamline this and try to come up with some way that it isn’t this,” Justice said, referring to the flow chart.

State purchasing requirements have been on hold ever since Justice declared a state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 — nearly two years ago. The governor has discretion for spending up to $150 million in federal funds during a state of emergency. A bill passed last year by the Legislature requires lawmaker approval for any expenditures more than $150 million during states of emergency.

When asked earlier this month whether the state of emergency would be lifted this year should active cases and hospitalizations decrease, Justice said he was not prepared to say when it would be lifted.

“From our standpoint here, I say err on the side of caution,” Justice said. “There are a lot of federal opportunities and everything that could come our way. If we lift the state of emergency, that could give us an opportunity to lose something to tell you the truth … I see no reason for us to just jump out and lift it just for the sake of saying we lifted it.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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