The South Carolina state Senate spent much of Tuesday debating whether decisions on state government purchases should be made by the proposed Department of Administration– or under an entirely new panel with both executive and legislative representation.
While something like procurement is likely greeted with yawns by many South Carolinians, senators spent hours making constitutional and theoretical arguments about what could become a powerful board.
Right now, procurement is handled by a collection of agencies under the Budget and Control Board– a part-legislative, part-executive agency that most senators and Governor Nikki Haley want to dissolve. The tricky part is where those agencies (the Division of State Information Technology, State Engineer’s Office, and Materials Management Office) should go.
The Senate voted last week to create a five-member Procurement Oversight Board that would be responsible for approving any purchasing agreements. The Board would consist of the Governor, Treasurer, Comptroller General, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and the Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee– the same members of the current Budget & Control Board.
However, some members– mostly Republican– believe that responsibility should be solely in the Governor’s Cabinet.
State Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) argues negotiating contracts and purchasing equipment is clearly an executive function. “When it goes awry, who is going to be ultimately responsible? A five-member entity or a statewide elected official?” he said on the Senate floor, “I do not think that accountability is served by having a five-member commission.”
AUDIO: Davis: I don’t want “efficiency” (5:04)
However, Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) said the current procurement system is working and that he wants to keep it that way.
“It’s all done in the open, no behind-the-door deals are cut,” he said, “The media’s there, the people are there (at meetings).”
AUDIO: Sen. Greg Gregory (R-Lancaster) argues with Leatherman over accountability (4:40)
Early on, it appeared Davis may have had the upper hand, as a small majority of senators voted 22-21 to consider his proposal to shift most of the state’s IT systems under the governor’s control.
However, two senators– Paul Campbell (R-Goose Creek) and Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden) — later switched their votes to help kill Davis’s proposal, 24-20.
Leatherman said he was worried about the potential for abuse if procurement was handled by a single bureaucratic official, “All I want to do is protect the taxpayers’ dollars that flow through state government and make absolutely sure that it’s done open, efficient, and transparent (sic),” he said.
Davis said keeping executive decisions in a hybrid board is unconstitutional and violates the concept behind separation of powers, “I don’t want ‘efficiency,'” he said, “I don’t want to have executive and legislative functions combined into one agency for the purpose of ‘efficiency.'”
He said 47 other states currently give procurement authority to their governors.