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Reverse auction bill goes to full Senate

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West Virginia's contracts have received scrutiny and scorn lately, but a bill that would allow a pilot project for reverse auctions will be presented to the full Senate for a vote.

The reverse auction process is similar to an Ebay auction, explained Dave Tincher, the director of purchasing for the state Department of Administration.

Senate Bill 565, which would allow a pilot program to try the process on items such as office supplies through July 1, 2017, passed the Senate Government Organization Committee March 20.

Tincher said the auctions are typically hosted online and would allow qualified vendors to submit bids for products during a specified amount of time.

"They know if they're the low bid or not," Tincher said. "If someone lowers the price, they can lower their price and so on and so forth until time runs out.

"At the end of the day, the state awards the contract to the lowest bidder."

Tincher said roughly 28 states already do something similar, and the savings range anywhere from 10 to 30 percent less than the traditional auction method.

Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, asked several questions about the bill and said he thought the idea seemed "detrimental to the state and to the process."

Tincher said the current policy of allowing the state to spend 5 percent more for in-state companies would still stand, and all the other rules could be worked out later through separate rules bills.

"This should not have any impact on vendors in West Virginia, large or small, any more than the regular process does," Tincher said. "It just gives everybody an opportunity to compete and offer more than one price."

He said the new online purchasing program the state is developing, which is expected to launch in July 2014, should have the capability to host reverse auctions.