Transparency is one of the most effective deterrents to government waste, fraud and abuse, so expanding citizens' ability to keep an eye on how their money is spent increases their confidence in government. Likewise, measures that reduce transparency breed public skepticism and distrust, and unfortunately, the Virginia General Assembly is considering just such a bill.
After a similar effort failed to pass in the 2012 session, Del. Ronald Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach, sponsored a bill that would make the posting of Request For Proposals by local public bodies in newspapers and on nongovernment websites "optional" instead of "mandatory," as it is now. This would save taxpayers a small amount of money, but it is a false economy.
The House Committee on General Laws approved the latest version of this unnecessary and potentially harmful bill on a 15-7 vote Tuesday. It would require local officials to post RFPs on the Virginia Department of General Services' central electronic procurement website (eVA) -- which only state agencies are currently required to use.
Perhaps it is self-serving for the Virginia Press Association, whose members include The Washington Examiner, to oppose a bill that affects them financially, but they're not the only ones. Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, explains why the one-word change is not in the public interest: "Posting RFPs to the state's procurement website (eVA) only guarantees that fewer potential bidders -- and possibly the lowest and best bidder -- will see these requests for proposal. That could cost a locality valuable tax dollars."
Rhyne also says that under the proposal, RFPs could still be posted in a newspaper or on a local government's own website. But intermittent or occasional postings could confuse citizens and potential bidders, who would have a greater chance of missing them altogether. It's already difficult enough for small-business owners to keep track of the multibillion-dollar procurement process -- some don't even have computers compatible with the eVA system. Why make it even harder for them to compete?
The VPA also correctly points out that publishing an RFP in a newspaper or nongovernment website creates a permanent legal document that can be used as evidence in a court of law. Such publications act as independent archivists of these public records. With literally billions of tax dollars at stake in the procurement process, eliminating this important check on local government officials will open the door to massive contract corruption for no good reason.