Better Contract System Needed

Officials at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reportedly agree with an auditor’s recommendation the agency should not be awarding large contracts on its own but should, instead, go through purchasing procedures required of most other state agencies.

Yet the DHHR plans to go ahead on its own with a contract worth an estimated $200 million.

That may sound like a contradiction, and it is. Coming on top of a controversy over another contract, it ought to prompt state legislators to place the DHHR back under the same purchasing restrictions used by other agencies as soon as possible.

Most state agencies must handle big purchases and contracts through the Division of Purchasing. But in order to give the DHHR more flexibility over contracts for Medicaid services, it has been given the authority to solicit, write and approve its own contracts. One being processed now is a 10-year deal for an estimated $20 million a year, for a company to work with Medicaid claims.

DHHR officials have had a difficult time with the contract, and now are on the third round of bidding for it after two initial attempts were suspended.

That difficulty in handling the bid alone would be enough to suggest the Division of Purchasing’s specialized expertise is needed to safeguard taxpayers in DHHR contracts.

There are other causes for concern, however. One involves a contract for marketing services that was awarded to the high bidder. Three members of the DHHR staff who raised questions about that bid were placed on paid leave. DHHR head Rocco Fucillo has refused to comment on the matter.

A recommendation by the Legislative Auditor’s Office that the DHHR be placed back under the umbrella of the Division of Purchasing makes so much sense that, again, agency officials agree with it. But they plan to plow ahead with the massive Medicaid services contract.

Some legislators already have questioned the contradiction. Why not have the purchasing division rebid the Medicaid contract? That may be a good idea. It certainly is one into which lawmakers should look, after warning Fucillo not to take action on the matter until they have had time to consider it.

In any event, legislators should, no later than their regular session next January, restore DHHR contracts to the purchasing division’s oversight.