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Procurement policies questioned in Universal Space Standards office furniture purchases

Posted: July 22, 2013 - 7:59pm  |  Updated: July 23, 2013 - 12:07am

The implementation of the State of Alaska’s “Universal Space Standards” is coming under more scrutiny, now from the Office of Administrative Hearings.

An administrative law judge says that the Department of General Services violated state procurement code when it made substantial changes to a contract for office furniture in a way that undermined the competitive bidding process.

Fairbanks-based Bowers Office Furniture filed an appeal after General Services denied their protest of awarding Juneau-based Capital Office Supply the office furniture contract. The judge in the hearing sided with Bowers and decided that the state should cancel the contract and reimburse Bowers for its proposal preparation costs. The decision was forwarded to Department of Administration Commissioner Becky Hultberg — who has final say — and she has sent it back to the court for further deliberation.

“There were questions on both sides that were not fully explored and this is allowing them to bring those forward,” Department Spokesman Andy Mills said. “What we’re really trying to do is make sure that it’s fully vetted.”

When searching for office furniture vendors, General Services issued a “Request for Submissions”, which is not a process listed in the state procurement code. Typically a “Request for Proposals” would be issued. According to facts stated in the judge’s decision, several furniture dealers raised concerns about the RFS, which was being offered through the Western States Contracting Alliance — a cooperative purchasing organization of 15 states. In response to the vendors’ concerns, General Services revised their request. Dealers were encouraged to submit bids that offered additional discounts on existing WSCA contract prices.

When Capital Office Supply was selected, Bowers protested. At first, General Services told Bowers that it had no basis for protest. Bowers pushed further and filed an appeal with the Office of Administrative Hearings.

In the hearing, General Services maintained that Bowers had no right to appeal because the RFS process was neither an “Invitation to Bid” nor a “Request for Proposals.” The judge disagreed, writing that because a contract was awarded, interested parties had the right to protest.

The judge also said General Services was wrong in making multiple, significant changes to the existing WSCA contract instead of creating a new contract.

“Most significantly, the price for the furniture was being changed. Several dealers in Alaska offered to sell furniture to the state at a lower price than the already discounted price contained in the WSCA contract.”

Additionally, the changes included asset management services, inventory reports and a resell/recycle/disposal program for the old office furniture.

“These changes, cumulatively if not individually, materially altered the WSCA contract in a way that subverted the purposes of competitive bidding. Other dealers of equal quality furniture may have been able to provide an offer more advantages to the state had they been allowed to participate.”

The Office of Administrative Hearings has 45 days reissue a decision. In the meantime, the state may continue purchasing office furniture through Capital Office Supply.

Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at jennifer.n.canfield@juneauempire.com.

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