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Rutgers won’t open bids, despite audit

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New Jersey businesses would welcome the chance to sell their goods and services to Rutgers, if the state university were to open up its procurement system to full, open, competitive bidding in the wake of a highly critical audit of its purchasing practices issued last week by Matthew Boxer, state comptroller.

But Rutgers, which is exempt from competitive bidding laws governing New Jersey’s other state colleges and universities, defended its purchasing practices, saying it got better prices for office supplies and furniture without using the state’s purchasing system, and cited a higher education task force finding that the State College Contract Law limits flexibility.

Henry Savelli spent 30 years in Trenton overseeing government procurement, retiring in 2001 as deputy director of Treasury’s Division of Purchase and Property. He is now a consultant who helps businesses land government contracts.

“If Rutgers is dealing with a small group of preferred vendors, that hurts the rest of the vendor community in the state — they’re not getting an opportunity to submit proposals,” Savelli said. “Competitive bidding is good public policy; it ensures you get the best price. Once vendors know there is not a formal competitive process and there are favored vendors, a relationship develops, and they get comfortable and don’t bid as low as they would in a full-blown competitive atmosphere.”

Boxer said the state provided Rutgers $450 million in 2009 for the university’s operations and employee benefits.
“When public tax dollars are being spent, there is an obligation to avoid unfair favoritism toward particular vendors,” Boxer said in a statement. Rutgers’ “procurement policy allows for exceptions that are so general and undefined, they essentially give Rutgers officials unfettered discretion when selecting vendors.”

– Beth Fitzgerald

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