Certain institutions of higher education in Idaho may soon get the freedom to go it alone on purchasing special equipment for school programs. The House voted unanimously to approve a measure brought by Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, that he says will make university more flexible and nimble during the purchasing process.
The bill would affect only four publicly-funded schools - Idaho State University, Lewis-Clark State College, Eastern Idaho Technical College, and Boise State University - and would allow them to purchase specialized equipment without the direct approval of the state. Under provisions in the bill, the four schools would need to develop a comprehensive purchasing policy, which would need approval from the Idaho State Board of Education, before being able to have sole authority over purchases.
Even after receiving that authority, universities and colleges would not have free reign. Mark Browning, representing the Idaho State Board of Education, told lawmakers in the committee hearing on the bill that 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.
The program is only trial period, noted Bedke on the House floor. The program would run for three years and would sunset at the end of that period. At the conclusion of the program, schools officials would be required to report successes or failures of sole purchasing authority to lawmakers, who could then extend or eliminate the practice.
Schools would not be exempt from all purchasing practices required by the state, however. The state, which has contracts in place for commonly used materials and supplies, would still require that the four schools participate in those contracts. Only specialized equipment, such as sophisticated microscopes, not available through the state contracts, would be eligible for purchase by the schools.
Bedke said he expects the state to save money by removing redundancies within government. Purchasing practices currently require that those four universities approve purchases within their own administrations and then submit them to the state for additional approval. Boise State University President Bob Kustra, speaking earlier in the legislative session to members of the House Education Committee, said that the process is cumbersome and overly lengthy, and oftentimes puts the school on the brink of losing grant money.
Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, who works as a research scientist, testified with Bedke at the committee hearing on the legislation, and agreed with Kustra that the current purchasing process is unnecessary and sometimes causes delays in scientific research, which can cause harm to a school's various departments. The research field is intensely competitive and gaining a time advantage “can mean the world to the success of your program," Bayer told lawmakers.
The University of Idaho and the state's community colleges would not be included in the legislation. The university was founded before the state and has long handled its own finances and purchasing and the community colleges use boards of trustees at the local level to handle purchasing procedures.