Sen. Chapin Rose proposes better sclerotic procurement process

By Caeli Cleary

In the face of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget cuts, University and state officials are searching for new ways to cut costs. State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-51, introduced new legislation to change the way the Illinois government makes purchases, otherwise known as the sclerotic procurement process. 

Procurement is how universities purchase goods and services for academic, research and public service programs as well as for maintenance, housing, dining halls and bookstore operations. According to the Illinois Higher Education Procurement Bulletin, universities typically purchase scientific and medical equipment, classroom and office supplies, chemicals, building construction and repair, maintenance services and professional services. 

All public universities in Illinois must follow the Illinois Procurement Code and all state universities’ Boards of Trustees have approved established purchasing procedures in accordance with the process. 

According to Rose, Illinois’ universities and taxpayers are currently overspending on school supplies, services and other equipment because of the current procurement process.

There are many instances where public universities must go to higher-priced vendors for something they need to buy because of the complicated rules of the procurement process, according to Rose. 

At a budget talk between University and state officials, Randy Kangas, associate vice president for Academic Affairs, said current procurement requirements may cost the University approximately $70 million each year. For example, Kangas said, Illinois State University had to reject five out of six bidders for a university project because of procurement rules. Kangas said the lowest three bidders were much less expensive than the winning bid. 

Kangas said revising the procurement process would make procurement more competitive, thus driving down the cost of supplies and services. Not only would more companies qualify, more companies would submit bids. 

President Robert Easter said Rose’s legislation could also help the University redirect some of this money.

“He proposed to make the universities more efficient in a variety of ways, procurement being one of them, so that we can redirect the kinds of spending that are involved now with the procurement process on other things like faculty members, directing more of the revenues into the classroom and the research labs,” Easter said. 

Lucas Frye, student trustee, said these rules make it difficult for schools to make big purchases, and new legislation will help the University redirect some of its spending. 

“There are a lot of rules universities have to follow, so (Rose’s) legislation is trying to eliminate some of those restrictions specifically put on state universities.” Frye said. “If the budget cuts were to happen, this could be one of those areas that we could have some cost savings.” 

If enacted, Rose’s proposed legislation would allow public universities to complete their own procurement and vendor paperwork would be streamlined to avoid conflicts of interest. 

“Part of the process involves a lot of bureaucratic red tape, and it is particularly burdensome to the University as it relates to vendors,” Easter said. “The regulations that are imposed on the vendor and the University make that procurement a disincentive for those kinds of companies to do business here in Illinois.” 

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