CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- We've discussed, in this venue from time to time, the phenomenon of double-dipping by retired public officials. Now, here's a new one: Piggybacking.
In a little-known subsection of the 2006 law streamlining state Purchasing Division regulations (pushed by then-Gov. Joe Manchin and then-Administration Secretary Robert Ferguson), state agencies are allowed to buy goods and services without going through the bidding process by "piggybacking" on an existing state contract for that product.
I counted at least 115 state contracts that are subject to piggybacking -- in fact, Purchasing's website features a "Piggyback Contracts" page.
Piggybacking was brought to my attention after some advertising agencies, anticipating an upswing in public service ads in an election year, inquired about doing work for the attorney general's office. They were advised that the AG's office piggybacks its advertising off the Department of Health and Human Resources' ad contract, currently held by the Arnold Agency.
Indeed, a check of payment records in the auditor's office shows that of the $21.56 million the state has paid the Arnold Agency in the past half-dozen years, about $4.1 million of that business has been for agencies other than the DHHR.
That's topped by the Division of Motor Vehicles, at $1.78 million; the Division of Human Services, at $987,497, Justice and Community Services, $474,407; Department of Education, $189,139; Insurance Commission, $160,030; and attorney general, $115,294.
The DHHR is re-bidding its advertising contract (with big guns Charles Ryan Associates, Fahlgren-Mortine, Manahan Group, and the Arnold Agency the remaining bidders) and the question of piggybacking came up in the pre-bid conference.
Bidders wanted an estimate of annual expenditures by DHHR under the contract (Answer: About $3.7 million.), as well the extent other agencies piggyback on the contract.
The department's response: "DHHR does not track other agency use of this contract."
Piggybacking is distinct from statewide contracts, which state agencies are required to use for purchases of commonly used goods and services, such as coaxial cable, modular furniture, light bulbs or paper products, to name a few.
There seems to be two issues with piggybacking: One, as with the attorney general's office advertising, piggybacking seems to preclude smaller businesses from being able to compete for what otherwise would be smaller contracts.
In fact, two of the Arnold Agency's most recent billings would have been manageable contracts for a small ad agency: $97,807 on May 22 for the attorney general's office, and $33,057 on March 6 for the DMV.