Md. cracks down on some state contracts over transparency concerns

WASHINGTON — Members of Maryland’s Board of Public Works have voted to increase oversight of state contracts.

Citing something called “task orders,” Comptroller Peter Franchot noted that agencies can spend millions of dollars under master contracts without ever having to go before the board.

During a meeting of the board Thursday, Franchot moved to amend state procurement rules, requiring spending of more than $200,000 under a master contract to come back before board for approval.

The other two members of the board, Gov. Larry Hogan, and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp also voted in favor of the measure, making the vote unanimous.

Franchot said the move was designed to increase accountability.

Since the start of 2018, Franchot said, the Department of Information Technology has awarded five task orders — each one more than $10 million. One of the five was a “whopping” $149.3 million task order contract to the Department of Human Services, he said.

Franchot stressed that he was not suggesting there was anything improper about the contract, but he said more transparency on spending is needed.

“It is critical, I believe, to the fiscal health of the state,” he said.

Franchot mentioned the contract awarded to the firm that stores Maryland voter registration data — the one tied to a Russian oligarch with a major stake in the firm.

“How was this contract obtained? I’m told it was through a $7.5 million master contract task order that was never brought before the Board of Public Works,” Franchot said.

Franchot said his own agency had made use of task orders in the past, but said the new regulation would increase transparency and accountability.

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