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Lawmakers Vent Over Purchasing Rules

Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois

Illinois officials faced tough questioning Monday over the lease of a warehouse for file storage.

The Legislative Audit Commission hearing also got at broader questions over how state government spends money.

The lease was first called into question two years ago, when it was reported the state would be paying $2.4 million dollars for a 5-year lease — on a building that had just been purchased for a quarter of that amount. The facility is being used for deep storage of files from the Department of Human Services.

The lease also made news because of apparent ties to Springfield powerbroker Bill Cellini, who went to federal prison for corruption related to the Blagojevich administration.

An audit found several violations of state procurement procedures — including disclosure of inside information and changes to the specs after bids had been collected.

The state’s chief procurement officer agreed there were problems — but argued the law was not violated.

Nevertheless, State Sen. Jason Barickman, a Republican from Bloomington, called the warehouse procurement process “disastrous.”

“The public expects that there’s going to be some level of bureaucracy there, and that that’s going to cost some money,” Barickman said. “But they expect that the result is going to be something fruitful, and here the result is just chaos.”

Officials from the Department of Central Management Services acknowledged the problems and said they’ve implemented safeguards.

The deal was struck during the two-year budget impasse, when the state’s reputation made it tough to find willing landlords.

Lawmakers used the opportunity to vent broader frustrations with the rules around how Illinois buys supplies and rents office space.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, a Republican from Mahomet, focused on problems at universities.

“U. of I. has to get you people to sign off on ordering bullets for their U. of I. police department guns,” Rose said. “ You guys came back and told them you found cheaper bullets on the internet. Well the bullets that you found on the internet (that) were cheaper … they wouldn’t fit in the guns for the police officers.”

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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