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Omnibus Bill to Give Departments Greater Discretionary Spending

Nov. 30, 2006 — Provisions included in this year's Omnibus Authorization Act will give the departments of Health and Public Works the ability to bypass the procurement process for projects worth under $50,000.
During Committee of the Whole hearings held on Wednesday and Thursday, heads of both departments testified in support of having the additional authority, which has already been granted to other government entities, such as the V.I. Waste Management Authority and the Department of Education.
However, each provision also has its limitations. For example, the section dealing with Public Works specifies that the department "may procure minor maintenance and repairs, goods, services, materials, supplies and equipment for up to $50,000."
Likewise, another section allows the Health Department to "procure on the open market professional medical services, emergency services, pharmaceutical and other public-health related services in an amount up to $50,000."
Generally, government contracts are put through a competitive bidding process, with bid proposals subsequently evaluated by representatives from the Department of Property and Procurement.
According to Health Commissioner Darlene A. Carty, the department is currently able to bypass the procurement process for emergency activities valued under $5,000. "Sometimes this is not enough," she told senators during Thursday's meeting.
"There are things that we need to get accomplished in real time — such as obtaining medical pharmaceuticals. Additionally, because of our isolation from the mainland, there are some critical medical services we need to bring in for patients, and that usually costs more than $5,000."
Public Works Commissioner George Phillips made similar statements during Wednesday's meeting, telling senators that raising the cap to $50,000 will make the "government more user friendly."
"This is not an attempt to circumvent existing procurement laws," he said. "It simply gives us more flexibility in dealing with small emergencies, such as road repairs, draining system repairs and putting up retaining walls. We get so many requests every day from residents, and because we have to go through a longer procurement process, they become frustrated with the lack of response from the government. This allows us to be more responsive to the needs of the community."
Throughout the Omnibus bill, along with another voluminous piece of legislation called the Government Reform and Modernization Act, there are other provisions dealing with the Public Works and Health Departments, including, among other things:
–requiring the V.I. Board of Nurse Licensure to do criminal background checks on all applicants;
–requiring Public Works provide more directional markings, indicating traffic flow, on public roads;
–allowing Public Works and the Department of Homeland Security to negotiate a road swap with Hovensa;
–appropriating $170,921 to the Department of Public Works to pay a prior year obligation to S&S Services;
— appropriating $110,000 to Public Works to develop a flood-mitigation plan for the area known as "Old Mon Bijou-Guavaberry Street;"
— appropriating $60,000 to the Department of Health to hire a health safety officer;
— appropriating $150,000 to the Department of Health to employ a public health pharmacist and to purchase a mammography machine; and
—-$385,000 to Public Works to widen the roadway at the bottom of Raphune Hill.
According to Senate President Lorraine L. Berry, senators will heavily scrutinize both bills before sending them to a full Legislative session scheduled for Dec. 11 for a final vote.
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