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WBAL TV 11: Board demands paper trail of state's emergency spending on coronavirus


Maryland's Board of Public Works is demanding a better paper trail on the state's emergency spending related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The board on Wednesday deferred considering all that has been spent. This follows the 11 News I-Team's report Tuesday on a $14 million deal between the state and a firm that includes former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.

Because of the state of emergency, the money the state has been spending has not gone through normal procurement, meaning there has been little competitive bidding and little outside oversight.

Through the end of April, Maryland officials spent almost $236 million on their response to the coronavirus pandemic, all of it as emergency spending.

The BPW, the state's spending oversight board, deferred consideration and approval of the spending because the Department of General Services provided a chart, but no backup documentation, such as purchase orders.

"Until we have that sort of information, I am not comfortable with this chart," state Treasurer Nancy Kopp said.

Kopp referred to the I-Team's story on the state's purchase of 5 million protective masks from a political consulting firm called Coast to Coast Strategies, where Steele is a principal. According to a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, Steele contacted the governor's office and was referred to state procurement officials.

Kopp said the paper trail is thin.

"I went back to look at these papers, and to tell you the truth, we did not find the name Coast to Coast Strategies anywhere except on this document for the board meeting," Kopp said.

The three-member board told the secretary of the Department of General Services to return the board in two weeks with more details about the spending.

"Obviously, we have some knowledge of the fact that everyone was working under extraordinary emergency conditions. All we are trying to do here, I think, not putting words in anyone's mouth, we're just trying to protect the taxpayers," state Comptroller Peter Franchot said.

The state's current lieutenant governor, Boyd Rutherford, noted the federal government is likely to audit the state's spending.

"Particularly since we are coming to billing this to the federal government, they are going to make sure this is done properly," Rutherford said.

The state's purchase of protective masks from Steele's firm works out to $2.80 per mask. A different supplier told the I-Team he tried to reach the state to sell the same product for $2 per mask, which represents a savings of $4 million.

A spokesman for the Department of General Services said the prices the state paid for the protective masks were within acceptable market range.

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