We can find bid information, but feedback option still missing
When we hear a state official pledge to make a process more transparent, we have visions of being able to go online and quickly find what we're looking for.
So we decided to see what Rhode Island was buying and from whom.
First stop: RI.gov, the revamped website that seems to offer handy links to a lot of things related to state government. On the "Business Services" page, we found a link to Bids. From there we went to the State Agency Bids page.
We put in the current date into the form, asking to see what bids were scheduled to be opened over the coming months. A list of 107 items popped up. The descriptions were very general. Clicking on a bid number (and clicking OK on a pop-up message) produces the bid specifications.
There's also a way to look at "awarded" bids -- more than 20,000 of them. Clicking on the bid number shows you the bid specifications. Clicking on "awarded" shows who got the job and what they bid.
Lorraine Hynes, a purchasing agent for the state division of purchases, said that the website hadn"t had a major overhaul in 15 years before the changes made under the Chafee administration this year. The changes also include a feature that lets vendors sign up and automatically receive e-mail notices whenever the state is seeking bids on items the vendors sell.
"That is huge," she said, "because the reality is, what small business has the staff to go through the purchasing website looking for that?"
"We have over a hundred vendors already online," according to Hynes, who said people can sign up by clicking the "Vendor Center" link in the lefthand column of www.purchasing.ri.gov.
As for the Better Buy Project that Chafee mentioned, that federal website (betterbuyproject.com) allows people to suggest ways to make the U.S. government's acquisition process more efficient. It also encourages people to identify the best ideas by voting on them.
We found something similar on RI.gov. Three headlines appear in rotation at the top of the home page, including "Make this Better. (We"re listening.)” We clicked on the "Tell Us How” button underneath, and then clicked on the "Your Ideas” button. We found 20 ideas on the list and a grand total of 81 votes among them.
But there isn't a similar site for the state procurement process. Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger said talks are underway in the administration to develop the best way to get citizen feedback on the procurement process. Whether it will mimic the RI.gov Website Ideas page hasn"t been decided.
In summary, we easily found bidding information online. And the updated website notifies vendors when a bidding opportunity is available. Both fulfill the first part of Chafee"s promise, to make the procurement process more transparent.
But a system for making suggestions on improving the procurement process itself -- the second part of the promise -- has not been implemented.
So we'll rate this promise "In the Works."
Www.Purchasing.RI.gov, "Bid Search" and "Vendor Information," Rhode Island Division of Purchases, accessed Dec. 1, 2011
Interview, Lorraine Hynes, purchasing agent, Rhode Island Division of Purchases, Dec. 1, 2011
RI.gov, "RI.gov Web site Ideas Forum," accessed Nov. 30, 2011
Interview, Christine Hunsinger, Chafee spokeswoman, Dec. 2, 2011