Under the proposal, procurement officials would be required to make certain information publicly available within two weeks of an emergency purchase, including copies of each written contract and the name of the highest ranking government official who approved it — something that has proved elusive at times in Utah’s flurry of no-bid contracts.
The bill also seeks to set an end date for contracts entered into outside of normal purchasing processes. No-bid agreements related to a natural disaster — including an explosion, fire, flood, storm, tornado or windstorm — could last no longer than 60 days under the proposed legislation, while all other emergency procurements contracts, including those related to a pandemic, could last no longer than 30 days.
Her proposal, she said, “would allow the executive branch to be nimble and responsive while also putting guardrails and checkpoints in place to encourage transparency, accountability and ultimately the competitive bid process that works so well."
The procurement unit is required to ensure purchases are made with “as much competition as reasonably practicable.” After the emergency is over, it’s required to prepare a written document explaining the conditions that made the purchases necessary.
Procurement officials have argued that those shortcuts were necessary during the pandemic to cope with the urgent need for protective gear amid intense international competition.
“The app that we have a year long contract for that we’re $4 million into, it was entered into as an emergency contract and it has a yearlong duration,” she said. “In this case, if we had this code in place, it would have been a 30 day contract.”
“Without written documentation of authorization (or explicit verbal authorization), it is impossible to determine exactly how this occurred,” the auditors wrote. “We are concerned that this purchase occurred without anyone’s explicit authorization.”
Christopher Hughes, director of the state’s Division of Purchasing, said Tuesday that he thought the changes in Pierucci’s bill would help provide more transparency with emergency contracts and at the same time were “not overly burdensome to anybody within the procurement profession.”
He said a 30-day timeframe would allow procurement officials to move quickly in the first days of an emergency while also ensuring adequate time to secure contracts under the normal processes designed to promote fairness and competition by the end of the period.
Pierucci’s bill received early approval from the state’s Economic Development and Workforce Services committee with a near unanimous vote on Tuesday.
The only lawmaker who voted against approving the proposal as a committee bill was Sen. Jake Anderegg, who said he planned to support the legislation later on but didn’t want it to receive the expedited treatment that comes with unanimous consent.
“I understand where this is going and why it would be needed and how it could be helpful,” he said. “It just is one of those things where I think we’ve got to rein in the Emergency Management Act of 1953 and put some better guardrails in place before this bill should be a prime-time bill.”
Pierucci said she her bill did the opposite and would instead rein in powers under the emergency procurement code.
“The idea and goal of it is to get us to a place where we were using the competitive bid process, which also is encouraging more transparency and accountability,” she noted.
The bill will be further deliberated in the upcoming general legislative session early next year.