JACKSON — PEER has completed a legislative request to review how state agencies contract for goods, services and construction and the transparency of the process. The requesting legislator was particularly concerned with vendors’ perspective of the contracting process.
PEER sought to determine best practices in public contracting and whether Mississippi has the provisions in place to encourage and protect vendors while providing for the needs of state agencies in a timely and cost effective manner. After identifying best practices in public procurement, PEER reviewed state laws and regulations regarding state agencies’ contracting for goods, services, and construction.
PEER found vendors have no single point of access to information regarding opportunities to sell goods or services to state agencies. Because three separate state regulatory agencies have responsibilities related to contracting, vendors must deal with potentially three different environments in learning about opportunities. State law and the regulatory agencies’ rules and regulations specify how vendors must enter the contracting process (e. g., submitting bids or proposals).
Vendor access is limited to some extent by thresholds and exemptions in statutes or regulations. Exemptions (i.e., items exempted from statutory or regulatory procurement requirements) and thresholds (i.e., dollar value limits that determine the level of vendor access and competition required) can result in both efficiency benefits to the state and in a competing outcome of limiting contracting opportunities for vendors.
ITS regulations require that vendors be selected based on quantitative and qualitative scoring criteria. PSCRB regulations require agencies to select vendors based on requirements set out in the document soliciting bids or proposals. DFA, ITS, and the PSCRB have mechanisms in place to help ensure that vendor selection is based on well-defined criteria.
DFA, ITS, and PSCRB regulations require that written notification of a bid award be sent to the successful bidder but do not specifically require proactive presentation of this information to the public. Only ITS requires a form of debriefing–the Post Procurement Review–at the vendor’s request. All three agencies’ regulations require maintaining some information on their websites regarding awarded contracts, but none of the three have all current contracts posted on their websites with easy access.
In its recommendations, PEER wrote: “The Legislature should amend MISS. CODE ANN. Section 25-53-151 (1972) to require the Electronic Government Oversight Committee2 to develop a procurement portal that will enable potential vendors of goods and services to have access to relevant and necessary information regarding the sale of the following to state agencies: commodities, as defined by CODE Section 31-7-1; contract personnel, as defined by CODE Section 25-9-107 and 25-9-120; and, computer equipment and services, as defined by CODE Section 25-53-3.
“Specifically, the portal should provide potential vendors with: a searchable database of business opportunities with the state, including a breakdown by product/service and by organization seeking the product/service; listings of the effective dates of each contract; Frequently Asked Questions regarding doing business with the respective agencies and a breakdown of these questions regarding the selection process for the respective agencies; a searchable database of contract types, contract number, commodity, supplier, organization, or keywords; a forum for questions and answers relating to the procurement process in general and/or specific to a single contract; and, links to individual agency websites and contacts to enable potential vendors to obtain more specific information if necessary.
“The portal should be maintained as part of the Transparency Mississippi website managed by the Department of Finance and Administration as provided for by CODE Section 27-104-151 through 27-104-165. It should be mandatory that the Department of Information Technology Services maintain a link from the state website to the portal.
“Further, the Legislature should create a new CODE section to be codified with the other provisions or Transparency Mississippi that will require the Department of Finance and Administration to maintain and update this portal with guidance and assistance from the Department of Information Technology Services and the State Personnel Board.”