Gov. Phil Bryant continues to take seriously the reform of public contracting in Mississippi.
Last November, Bryant, responding to the contract scandal that erupted from the arrest of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps, established a special task force to conduct a comprehensive review of the Mississippi Department of Corrections’ (MDOC) contracting and procurement processes.
In December, the five-member task force, led by Andy Taggart and Judge Robert Gibbs, submitted initial findings and recommendations to the Governor, who promptly transmitted them to the Legislature.
Representative Jerry Turner of Baldwyn incorporated many recommendations into tough legislation to revamp state contracting and procurement laws. Senator Nancy Collins of Tupelo and her colleagues weakened Turner’s bill, but still adopted significant reforms.
One key task force recommendation and reform adopted by the Legislature was to revamp the membership of the Personal Service Contract Review Board (PSCRB). The intent was to take review of contracts like those abused by Epps away from active state bureaucrats and put oversight under individuals with professional private sector contracting experience or with equivalent public sector experience but no longer active in state government.
Turner’s bill called for the Governor and the Lt. Governor to appoint two members each. The revamped PSCRB was to take charge July 1, 2014.
In June, Gov. Bryant appointed Bill Moran, a retired FMC Technologies site manager, and Rita Wray, a health care consultant and former deputy director of the Department of Finance and Administration.
Lt. Gov. Reeves has not made his appointments. In early July his office said he was “carefully considering his appointments….This is an important board that needs quality individuals to oversee how taxpayers’ money is spent.” Friday his office said he would make appointments by the end of August.
Meanwhile, the short-handed board held its first meeting in July. The lack of a complete board poses a problem because of a peculiar requirement injected into PSCRB operations by the Turner:
“Any contract submitted to the Personal Service Contract Review Board for review and approval shall be presumed to be approved if the Personal Service Contract Review Board does not object to the contract within thirty (30) days of the agency’s submission of the contract.”
Should the short-handed PSCRB be unable to meet due to lack of a quorum, any number of contracts could slip through without official review because of the 30 day loophole.
The task force issued its final recommendations to Governor Bryant on June 26. They called for the 30 day rule to be changed along with additional reforms.
The Governor followed through last week on two additional reforms, issuing executive orders requiring MDOC to professionalize its purchasing office and requiring agencies to improve transparency by posting online an analysis describing why a personal or professional services contract was awarded.
Stamping out cronyism and corruption in public contracting will take a serious, sustained, all-in approach from the Governor and the Legislature.