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Lab Audit: Lawmakers should embrace consolidation

West Virginia’s state-run laboratories are in need of consolidation and an upgrade, according to a report by the Legislative Auditor’s Office released last week. According to the report, there are options for doing the job better, but they will mean a shift away from the way things have always been.

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, requested the audit as they consider ways to use federal COVID-19 money. Many of our state’s labs are directly involved in issues related to the virus.

“Ultimately, we want to do the right thing for the agencies and the people of West Virginia, and we have the power of the purse,” Blair said. “This has five decades worth of implications into the future.”

Information provided to them indicates there is a better model. West Virginia auditors looked at the Kentucky Consolidated Laboratory, a state-managed centralized lab, to find ways the Mountain State could do better.

But, as is always the case when lawmakers’ attempt to use tax dollars more efficiently runs up against the way King Bureaucracy has gotten comfortable doing things, there was disagreement with the auditors’ report. Also predictably, a carefully chosen scare tactic was thrown in, for good measure.

“I appreciate the Legislative Auditor’s work on doing their research, but I’m going to disagree with this,” Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt said. “I’m about making sure the citizens of West Virginia are safe. That’s of primary importance to me. I don’t think you really want to combine the animal laboratories with the human laboratories. You don’t want me having a foreign animal disease right next to some studies that are being done for human diseases.”

Authors of the report did not fail to consider such things in their recommendation.

“Whatever is decided, moving the labs will require careful planning and likely coordination between agencies if they are co-located,” the report said.

Leonhardt’s worries pale in comparison with concerns auditors have with the labs already in operation.

” … Each of the state’s lab testing programs do not have sufficient lab space in their current facilities, and no facility upgrades or remodeling have occurred to maintain modern standards,” the report said. “The lack of space and upgrades has made it difficult to maintain scientific standards under each laboratory’s accreditation standards, which in turn, puts at risk current lab testing programs, and precludes the State from conducting new lab testing programs.”

Lawmakers know what they need to do. They mustn’t let the usual voices stop them.

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