We need to cure procurement laws

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We need to cure procurement laws

By Camron Owens

With budget cuts looming, our state universities have been facing a plan that would reduce the state government budget for higher education by 31.5 percent, making many universities fearful of becoming just as lacking in finances as many of their students.

Recently, State Senator Chapin Rose introduced a new plan that he claims would save public universities and taxpayers in Illinois money. The basis of this plan is to basically change Illinois procurement laws. Rose plans to “streamline” Illinois procurement laws to give schools more flexibility when making purchases.

On the surface, procurement laws seem to make sense. Procurement laws require any purchase made by the University to go through a process that requires them to buy the most competitively priced item available to ensure one company doesn’t have a greater influence over the University than others.

For example, if the University wanted to buy a laptop, they would have to go through a process of filling out paperwork, getting different approvals and then allowing companies to bid on offering the best deals for the laptop. The University would have to take the best bid, rather than going out and simply buying whatever laptop is cheapest.

It would seem that this system would ensure that universities provide quality items and help us resist monopolistic influence from one corporation. However, being an Illinoisan my whole life, I know that our state government isn’t always known for being simple or organized. The procurement law in Illinois is actually quite a burden considering that most things purchased at the University have to go through this process.

The proposed new changes to procurement laws would take some of the politics out of the University and allow us to run like a business, especially since politicians, rather than the University, imposed these regulations.

Beyond the complications that procurement laws create, like delays and frequent miscommunication, these ridiculous guidelines are also costing the University’s staff and students. In October 2013, the University’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition attempted to buy a steam kettle to be used for research and instruction, however, due to this long and complicated process, the bidding took six months to complete, and even then the final price was $15,000 over the original budget. These delays caused the department to delay grant-funded work and made them unable to process produce last summer. According to University President Robert Easter, the University would save as much as $70 million a year if these procurement laws were reformed and frankly, it’s easy to see how.

This is an issue at all public Illinois universities. At Southern Illinois University, they were unable to purchase a chemical storage building from the lowest bidder because that bidder was not registered with the Secretary of State. The next bid was over $144,000 higher, meaning they had to go through the process of a rebid.

Rose even stated “there has been a documented pattern of vendors refusing to bid Illinois jobs — which in many cases has the effect of raising prices.” These laws are so complex that we as students will miss out on products from certain bidders simply because they’re annoyed with our state law. This puts Illinois college students at a disadvantage, as we are deprived of options.

The main issue at hand is this is money that we could be using on students and campus improvements. This would also provide some financial relief with the impending budget cuts. Statewide, reforming these laws could result in savings of $135 million for all public universities. As you can see, the burden of these laws is affecting our brothers and sisters all across the Land of Lincoln.

As to if the proposed legislation will fix the problem, at this time it is unknown, however, it does seem like a step in the right direction. Rose’s proposal essentially eliminates a lot of the complicated aspects of the process, allowing universities to “self-certify” vendors.

Obviously, we need some regulations in place; however, those regulations shouldn’t be so ridiculous that vendors don’t want to go through them. Anything would be better than what we have now.

Camron is a junior in LAS.

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