Badly needed purchasing reforms signed into law

An editorial from The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s lawmakers have received their share of criticism for some bills they passed and some they didn’t during the recently concluded 2014 regular session of the state legislature.

But one of the many issues they did address with passed legislation was right on target: tougher rules on how federal grant money is spent and tougher penalties on employees who violate purchasing rules. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the purchasing reform bill into law this week.

The legislation no doubt was prompted primarily by missteps in the handling of various aspects of a $126 million economic stimulus grant received by the state in 2009 to expand high-speed Internet accessibility across the state.

Last year, two legislative audits uncovered significant problems in how some of that money was spent. The project involved laying hundreds of miles of fiber optic cable, with access provided to community facilities such as schools, libraries and local government buildings; purchasing Internet routers to serve those “community anchor institutions”; and constructing communications towers.

The Legislative Auditor’s Office concluded in separate reports that the state spent about $15 million more than necessary on the Internet routers because they had much more capacity than was required and that purchasing laws were bypassed in a $38 million contract for the communications towers. Questions also have been raised about whether the state got its money’s worth in connection with a $42 million contract with Frontier Communications for building the fiber optic cable network.

The new law, which goes into effect in June, requires something that should have been mandated long ago…

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