Hogan, Franchot Continue Expressing Frustration Over State Agencies' Contracts Process

By Brian Marron

ANNAPOLIS—Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, on Wednesday again railed in frustration against the procurement processes of state agencies requesting contract approval from the Board of Public Works.

The University System of Maryland, which has received some heat from the board in recent meetings, once again was questioned about its construction budgeting process.

After the University of Maryland, Baltimore County on Wednesday asked for $9 million to begin construction on a new $100 million Interdisciplinary Life Sciences building, Franchot began the questioning.

Franchot, citing his concern for taxpayers, said he was confused why contractors tell him that public buildings take far more time to construct and are double the cost compared to similar buildings in the private sector.

Terry Cook, senior vice president for administrative services at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the process for such buildings tends to be more complex and they are for planned for more long-term use. Franchot appeared skeptical, saying the procedures involve too many committees and need to be streamlined in order to bring down the costs for these structures.

“If I were flying to the moon, I’d hate to be in a rocket designed by a committee,” said Franchot.

The University System had asked the board on Feb. 18 for an additional $29 million above original contract prices for four campus construction projects. The board, citing unsatisfactory explanations for the cost overruns, delayed voting on the projects until March 5, when—after again grilling system representatives—the board approved those additional costs.

Hogan on Wednesday said he wants the University System to change its habits when it comes to school construction.

“No question we’re very concerned about the cost overruns with the University System,” Hogan said. “After the (legislative) session is over, the lieutenant governor (Boyd Rutherford) and I, the treasurer (board member Nancy Kopp) and comptroller need to sit down with the University System and see if we can’t come up with a better system.”

The board did approve UMBC’s contract request.

In other action, despite requesting a smaller, $300,000 contract, the Department of Housing and Community Development also fell into a bit of hot water with the board.

The contract would continue software maintenance and enhancement services for the department’s single-family loans program from Application Oriented Designs Inc., a Miami-based computer service company. The system is used for managing revenue bonds, loans and lending.

The department awarded the contract in 1985 and has been renewing it with Application Oriented Designs on a sole-source procurement basis every year since. Representatives from the housing department confirmed that a 1999 review did not find software upgrades were needed, and that no such assessment occurred after that, which caught the attention of the governor.

“Does anyone believe that 1985 software is the most up-to-date software for tracking loans on houses?” Hogan said. “I didn’t even have a computer in 1985.”

To further baffle the board, the department also noted that the current contract expired Tuesday.

The board decided to defer the item until its next meeting, scheduled for April 15. Hogan asked that Department of Housing and Community Development Secretary Kenneth Holt, who was not present on Wednesday, attend to discuss opening the contract up to more bidders.

That contract and a request to lease certain state-owned property to Canal Place Preservation in Cumberland, Maryland, were the only deferred items of the day.

The board also approved a $116 million project to expand the capacity of the Cox Creek storage facility for dredged material from the Baltimore Harbor. According to the contract, the increase in space is due to an expected rise in the number of larger ships coming into the harbor in the upcoming year. This requires additional dredging to maintain a navigable channel for such activity.

Embracing the April Fools’ Day spirit, Hogan also kiddingly announced he is running for President of the United States at Wednesday’s board meeting.

“We do have two former Maryland governors talking about running, so I figured why not one more?” Hogan joked, referring to Democrat Martin O’Malley and Republic Robert Ehrlich.

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