Earlier this year, I and others reported to you about an independent legislative audit which found that West Virginia wasted between $8 million and $15 million in federal stimulus money buying over sized routers to place in community anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries and state police stations.
The audit said Cisco up-sold the state and the state’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program made a series of errors in approving the deal.
That wasn’t the end of the story.
Now the legislative auditor has issued a new report about even more mismanagement in how the state spent millions of dollars in stimulus money, this time for 17 emergency communications towers.
According to the audit, state homeland security director Jimmy Gianato and emergency communications director Joe Gonzalez failed to comply with a series of state purchasing laws in awarding $10 million in tower construction business to Premier Construction of Lewis County.
The audit says Gonzalez had a “professional relationship” with the owner of Premier Construction and was even used by the company as a reference. Gonzalez also played a role in Premier being awarded an earlier contract for building a single communications tower in Lewis County.
In 2010, when the state had an opportunity to expand its emergency communications network with federal stimulus money, the audit says Gonzalez and Gianato hired Premier without going through the proper bid process. Premier then contracted out most of the work to five different companies, four of which were not licensed to do business in West Virginia (a violation of state law).
When state purchasing director David Tincher got wind of the tower project and became aware it had not been competitively bid, he warned Gonzalez and Gianato that the awarding of the contract “may not have been done in accordance with appropriate procedures.”
The audit says that despite Tincher’s recommendation to Gianato and Gonzalez that they stop construction, the work continued.
This all sounds remarkably similar to the “Routergate” scandal. Large amounts of federal stimulus money are pushed into the state, where bureaucrats ignore proper procedures, despite warnings.
At best, this is gross incompetence of the kind that gets you fired in the private sector, but since this is state government, we can expect the usual shrug of the shoulders from under the capitol dome.
At worst, we have, at least according to the audit, willful violations of state law and a curious relationship between key state officials and a tiny company that got a huge state contract without going through the bid process.
U.S. Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld has let it be known that he has a public corruption unit in his office. This audit would make for an interesting read by his team.