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Thumbs up: New purchasing rules should lead to wiser spending

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 10:45 PM

The state of West Virginia has wisely taken steps to avoid the kind of purchase that was called into question last month by a federal watchdog agency.

The West Virginia Purchasing Division informed state agencies recently that they must now get written approval before they use existing statewide "master" contracts to buy goods and services that cost more than $250,000.

Playing a part in that decision, officials acknowledged, was the 2010 purchase of $24 million worth of Internet devices as part of a larger project to expand broadband access at a variety of public facilities across the state. The devices -- Internet routers, which are used to relay data from one computer network to another -- cost $22,600 each. Critics questioned whether such pricey routers, each capable of serving up to 500 users, were necessary for facilities that had far fewer users.

The project, paid for by federal stimulus funds, caught the attention of two congressional subcommittees that asked the U.S. Commerce Department's Inspector General to investigate. The inspector general determined that the state could have purchased smaller, less expensive routers for many schools, libraries, county courthouses, health centers and planning agencies.

The routers were purchased under an existing 2007 master contract, with the buy authorized by a team of officials and signed off on by the Office of Technology, according to a report by The Charleston Gazette. The $24 million purchase was far larger than the average of $53,600 for all other purchases made under the master contract over the last five years. The Purchasing Division was not notified in advance.

That will change under the new rules. The Purchasing Division now must be notified when an agency plans to use a statewide contract to buy items that cost $250,000 or more, and the division must sign off on the transaction.

That will add another layer of accountability, and we hope more prudent use of taxpayers' dollars.

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