The Maryland Board of Public Works voted Wednesday to defer action on nearly $300 million in contracts submitted by the state Department of Juvenile Services after raising questions about the size of the contracts and remarking on the state’s need to rein in spending.
Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) — who sits on the three-member panel, which reviews all major state expenditures — criticized the agency for seeking to spend $297 million to provide services to 860 children, or about $346,000 per child.
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R), who was filling in for Gov. Larry Hogan (R) as chair because Hogan is on an overseas trip, said he shared Franchot’s concerns.
“It sounds like the margin could be a lot less than what you are asking to have encumbered,” said Rutherford, who served as secretary of general services during the administration of Gov. Robert L. Erhlich Jr. (R).
State officials said that the spending actually runs about $110,000 per child and that the department needs the additional money to serve as a cushion to ensure that the state has the capacity to serve the nonresidential and residential needs mandated by the court system.
“Don’t you think that’s a little bit loose?” Franchot said, arguing that the department provided no performance review of the 31 vendors asking for the contracts. “These are huge chunks of money, and we’re supposed to approve simply on your say-so.”
Since taking office in January, Hogan has used the bimonthly meetings to air concerns about fiscal responsibility and wasteful government spending. Even though he was absent, the theme Wednesday was the same.
Rutherford, who said he enjoyed the “nerdy” world of procurement, joined Franchot in repeatedly questioning department heads and other state employees about getting enough bids before awarding contracts and extending contracts for years on end.
By the end of the meeting, Franchot was joking that Hogan had left the Board of Public Works in good hands with Rutherford at the helm and could extend his trip another month. The governor returns this weekend.
“I’m one of the few who enjoys this process,” Rutherford said at the start of the meeting to laughter from the audience of state employees. “It can be a bit nerdy, I guess, but anyone who studies government should take a look at how we do it.”
Rutherford said he plans to meet with senior officials of all procurement agencies to discuss ways to improve the system through regulation or legislation.
He said he has noticed a “consistent problem” with extending contracts because departments did not properly plan for bids. Rutherford also gave a hint of his attention to detail.
“I was very disappointed in a number of typographical errors in the agenda,” he said, adding that such mistakes make state government look bad. “It’s a question of paying close attention to these matters.”