JACKSON — It’s too hard for companies to track down information on how to sell goods and services to state government and Mississippi should make it easier to do business with the state, a legislative watchdog group said.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review made its recommendations in a report released Nov. 12.
“Although it is possible for vendors to find information on business opportunities available in state government through electronic resources, PEER determined that this often requires searching through several pages on websites,” the committee wrote.
The committee said people who don’t know state government well might not be able to find the right agency, or the right documents on an agency’s website.
PEER recommends the Department of Finance and Administration maintain a contracting portal as part of its Transparency Mississippi website. The committee also said the portal should allow companies to search for business opportunities both by agency and by product or service. The committee urged lawmakers to require the portal under state law and require the Department of Information Technology Services and the state Personnel Board to help with it.
The Information Technology Services agency runs all the state’s purchasing for computer hardware, software and services. The Personnel Board houses the Personal Service Contract Review Board, which vets contracts for dozens of agencies.
“Vendors should have easy access to information about the contracting process and an opportunity to compete for contracts,” PEER wrote.
The committee wrote the site should also have guidance for doing business with individual agencies.
State agencies buy all manner of things. For example, the Department of Finance and Administration is currently asking for bids on tractors, firefighter uniforms, disposable adult diapers and refrigerant gases. The Information Technology Services agency is looking for a testing administrator and testing sites for the state Board of Cosmetology.
There is information about most purchases online now. For example, the business section of ms.gov has a direct link to the Department of Finance and Administration’s “Vendor Information” page for procuring commodities. But PEER noted that there’s no easy way to bid on a state construction project.
State agencies said there are other ways to learn Mississippi’s government is seeking a particular service. For items and services worth more than $50,000 including construction, furniture and equipment, commodities and vehicles, an agency has to publish bids in a newspaper at least two weeks in a row. That threshold is $100,000, if it’s a personal service contract.
For less expensive purchases, businesses may not have an opportunity to pitch their services unless an agency contacts them. For example, basic goods not covered by an existing state contract can be bought on the open market, though agencies are supposed to get at least two written price quotes for purchases of more than $5,000.
PEER also recommended agencies publicize bid awards and debrief bidders after a contract is awarded, to “dispel any concerns or problems that they might have had with the process.” Currently, the Information Technology Services agency has a form of debriefing, but the Department of Finance and Administration and the Personnel Board do not. PEER also called on the agencies to make sure all contract information is disclosed, saying some contracts aren’t now available.
The committee only looked at the laws and rules governing state contracting. The committee didn’t check to see whether agencies were following the rules.
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