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Committee approves plan allowing universities to go it alone on purchasing

Committee approves plan allowing universities to go it alone on purchasing

Dustin Hurst
March 23, 2010
Dustin Hurst
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March 23, 2010

The last time a representative from Boise State University made an appearance in the Capitol building, the House Education Committee heard testimony from the school's president, Bob Kustra, about the need for the Legislature to grant more flexibility during the equipment purchase process.  Kustra's wishes, in the form of House Bill 688, came one step closer Tuesday to becoming law as members of the House State Affairs Committee voted unanimously to send the piece of legislation on to the full House.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, would give certain schools - BSU, Lewis-Clark State College, Idaho State University, and Eastern Idaho Technical College - sole authority to purchase needed equipment for education programs.  Previously, in certain cases, purchasing departments for schools needed to approve a large purchase and then receive additional approval from the state before completing the transaction.  At the hearing before the education committee, Kustra told lawmakers that the additional bureaucracy made the process cumbersome and slow.  He also reported that his school almost lost out on time-certain grant money because of the lengthy process.

The University of Idaho, because of its status as a pre-statehood entity, already handles its own purchasing.  Community colleges are not included, Bedke said, because they already have their own governing bodies in the form of boards of trustees.

The legislation would not give universities and colleges free reign, however.  Mark Browning, representing the Idaho State Board of Education, said his department will still be able to regulate some purchases desired by schools.  He told lawmakers makes that the current policy states that schools may purchase items of less than $250,000 without approaching the board, while purchases between that amount and $499,999 require approval of the executive director of the board.  For purchases of more than $500,000, the full board would be required to give the green light.

Even with those guidelines in place, schools will be required to develop their own purchasing policies, which the state board will need to "bless," said Bedke.

The legislation contains a sunset provision that gives schools a three-year trial period to ensure that schools funds are handled appropriately.  Bedke told lawmakers that he expects them to hold the schools accountable for their purchasing practices at the end of the time period.

Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, gave lawmakers more reasoning behind the legislation.  Bayer, who works as a research scientist, told committee members that the highly technical nature of scientific equipment requires that buyers and sellers have as close contact as possible during the purchasing process.  He said that the research field is intensely competitive and gaining a time advantage "can mean the world to the success of your program."

Bill Burns, representing the purchasing department for the state, said that the bill is unnecessary and a waste of time for lawmakers. Burns said that had his department known there was a serious issue, it would have altered the process to streamline purchases through a policy directive.

Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, wasn't comfortable with Burns' answer, and asked if a policy directive could be overturned if there is a change in department administration.  Burns replied that a new administrator for the department could issue a new directive if that person desired, though he noted that the issuance of directives isn't a common practice.

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