The state’s central purchasing agency has not been sufficiently exercising its oversight responsibilities, Attorney General Gentner Drummond said in a formal opinion.
The opinion was requested by state Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, in connection with a Legislative Office of Financial Transparency report that less than one-fifth of the money spent by the state on purchases was actually subject to Central Purchasing Department oversight.
The Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which includes Central Purchasing, responded to the report by saying it did not believe it had the authority to question purchases that agencies claimed were exempt from the Central Purchasing Act.
Drummond’s formal opinion issued late last week said that is not the case.
“The Legislature has vested OMES with duties to protect taxpayer funds used in acquisitions by state agencies. These responsibilities and powers include directing the acquisition process, having the sole authority to review and approve agency acquisition procedures, and ensuring the purchasing director has sole and exclusive responsibility for all acquisitions by all state agencies not otherwise exempt by the act,” the opinion states.
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“Most significantly, OMES has the power to audit agencies, reduce acquisition authority, impose consequences on procurement officer certifications, and work with investigative agencies in instances believed to be a violation of the act or other law.”
OMES Director John Suter had previously told legislators his agency would comply with whatever instructions it was given and asked for clarification of the law. He pointed out that while the Central Purchasing Act puts the central purchasing director in charge of all purchases, it also exempts several agencies — most notably the Oklahoma Department of Transportation — from direct oversight.
Other partial exemptions are scattered throughout the statutes.
Drummond, in the opinion, sided with LOFT, which said Central Purchasing still has the authority and responsibility to make sure the exemptions are not abused.
“Given the entirety of the legislative scheme, this office concludes that OMES is required to maintain oversight and responsibility for all agency acquisitions,” the attorney general’s opinion states. “This necessarily includes routinely verifying an agency’s claim that an acquisition is statutorily exempt. This determination is consistent with the intent of the (Central Purchasing) Act, which ultimately is to protect the public at large by promoting economy in government and reducing the likelihood of fraud.”
OMES spokesman Caden Cleveland said,” Anything in the way of this sort of direction is appreciated. We’re still evaluating what this means for us operationally looking forward.”
The LOFT report stemmed from an earlier finding that the Department of Tourism had used an exemption for items intended for resale to spend $18 million refurbishing state park restaurants without going through the normal bidding process.
LOFT is controlled by legislative leadership, while the tourism is under the purview of the governor.