Original article from the ‘Columbia Daily Herald’: here
When the General Assembly wrapped up its work last month, it did so after passing some legislation that didn’t generate a lot of media attention but will significantly benefit Tennesseans in the years ahead.
For example, there is a new law on the books that should significantly improve the process the State of Tennessee uses to purchase goods and services. This law promises to provide savings to the taxpayers as well as making the purchasing system fairer and easier to understand for companies that wish to do business with the state.
And your state senator, Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, was instrumental in making it happen.
As chairman of the General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee, the legislative committee that supervises the finances of our state government, he saw firsthand that the state’s system lacked efficiency, accountability and policy compliance. And he took it upon himself to educate his colleagues about the problems he had seen.
Vendors were having difficulty doing business with the state. Citizens did not know how much was paid for goods and services or how contracts were awarded.
In committee meeting after committee meeting, Sen. Ketron held up a chart that resembled a maze in a puzzle magazine. This chart showed how complex the system had become: There were actually two separate processes — one for purchasing goods and the other for purchasing services.
Tennessee’s rules really offered the worst of two possible worlds — they were overly convoluted with no clear chain of command, but flexible enough to allow abuse and perceived favoritism. To put it simply, they were a confused mess.
Because many vendors were discouraged from participating, the system lacked robust competition. As a result, the taxpayers weren’t always getting the best deals for their money.
We needed real reform.
Sen. Ketron introduced legislation to simplify and streamline the purchasing process. It combined the purchasing of goods and services under the oversight and direction of a single leader directly responsible to the governor.
The new law requires purchasing policy decisions to be centralized — as part of a strategic plan — after input has been received from affected state agencies and vendors.
The law also requires more emphasis on professional development and training for employees and for qualified vendors involved in the procurement process.
Georgia had enacted similar legislation five years ago. The head of Georgia’s purchasing department told members of the Fiscal Review Committee to expect resistance from those who were benefiting under the old system.
After Georgia adopted the reforms, competition flourished. Vendors came to trust the system and to believe the process was fair. Georgia saved tens of millions of dollars as a result of these reforms.
Remarkably, a study done in Tennessee several years ago had identified many of the same problems here that were described in Georgia.
But after Sen. Ketron’s bill was introduced, the governor’s administration here initially raised all sorts of questions about the proposed law. As was the case in Georgia, vendors who had become comfortable with the status quo here also resisted change and attempted to subvert the proposed legislation.
Delays were suggested.
“Major legislation can’t be done in just one year,” the naysayers said.
“Let’s let the new governor have his say,” they said.
And, ridiculously, some of them tried to attach political motivations to changes that simply make for a better state government.
Sen. Ketron persisted, though, and ultimately, the General Assembly approved the legislation with strong bipartisan support.
There are several ways we should be able to save money under the new law. A fairer and simpler system should encourage more vendors to participate, which should help drive down the prices we pay for goods and services. Also, centralized purchasing will allow us to purchase items in greater quantities, which can help us negotiate price discounts.
We will save the taxpayers money. And we will have a fairer, more competitive and more open purchasing system.
Those should not be revolutionary concepts, but sometimes it takes strong leadership to make them happen.
Justin P. Wilson is Tennessee’s State Comptroller.