Paper: Rendell issued $1 billion in no-bid contracts

March 24, 2008 5:40:13 AM PDT
Gov. Ed Rendell has awarded more than $1 billion in no-bid contracts since he took office in 2003, prompting some lawmakers to call for additional scrutiny of such spending, a newspaper reported.

"What is beyond the pale is the level at which the Rendell administration has engaged in this," state Rep. Doug Reichley, R-Lehigh, the Republican Caucus' point man on contract issues, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for a story in Sunday's paper.

No-bid contracts are less than 1 percent of the Department of General Services' annual total, said Curt Topper, a Department of General Services' deputy secretary.

Most state contracts must be competitively bid. An exception allows state officials to award contracts without competition when it's "in the best interest of the commonwealth," according to state law. Other exemptions include when federal or state law specifically exempts the contract or when only a single supplier is capable of providing the product or service.

The money spent by Rendell between 2003 and 2008 cannot be compared to spending of previous governors because state officials say they can't find the records, the newspaper reported.

The Department of General Services said records were lost during a change in a computer system, or were not maintained by previous administrations.

Topper said he discovered that data for years prior to 2003, when Rendell took office, was missing only during the past three weeks while trying to fill the paper's request for information.

The Rendell administration has been providing tighter control of no-bid contracts than in the past and is cutting down on them, Topper said.

Lawmakers in both parties recently have criticized Rendell for keeping secret details involved with a proposal to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike, including the hiring of the governor's former law firm, Ballard Spahr Anderson & Ingersoll, for $1.8 million, the newspaper reported. Two former Rendell aides are partners at the firm.

Rendell has defended the firm's hiring, saying it's qualified because it has experience in tax-related issues.

House Minority Policy Chairman Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said legislation is being written that would prevent governors from issuing contracts greater than $100,000 without greater scrutiny. Turzai said he intends to hold a policy committee hearing.

State Senate Majority Whip Jane Orie, R-Allegheny, also wants to establish stricter guidelines. A bill she co-sponsored is modeled after a Philadelphia law that makes businesses ineligible for no-bid contracts if they contribute more than $10,000 a year to a city official's campaign.

Government can benefit when a public official has a connection to private companies, said Craig Shuey, executive director for the Senate Transportation Committee and spokesman for Sen. Roger Madigan, R-Bradford.

"However, when the sums of public funds grow into the millions and beyond, one has to question who is the greater beneficiary of the relationship," he said.

Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,