When people spend other people’s money, they can be less than finicky. And so it seems with workers at the state of Oregon.

For instance, the state bought 23 Xerox printers for $1,461.78. A state audit found a better deal that could have saved the state more than half that amount.

The state bought 58 copies of some statistical software for $12,694.42. A state audit found a better deal that could have saved $6,079.52.

And the state bought four licenses for some database software for $119,649.11. The same state audit from December 2018 found a better deal that could have saved the state $107,017.51.

Yikes.

Those are egregious examples. We did pick them from the audit to highlight the shocking savings that the state could have made if it spent money more carefully. Of course, state workers may not always have the time to seek out a great deal on every purchase, and state purchasing requirements can interfere with getting the cheapest price. The state audit found, though, the state could have saved between $400 million and $1.6 billion during the 2015-17 biennium based on $8 billion in procurements during that time.

We’d like to be able to tell you that’s all fixed now. We can’t. But we can tell you the state is moving in what could be a positive direction in one area — purchases by state and local governments that are too big to put on a credit card.

The state has a contract with Periscope Holdings, an Austin, Texas, company, to build a new statewide procurement system, according to Governing magazine. The platform called OregonBuys Marketplace is scheduled to gradually go live across government in 2020. There are similar systems in Illinois, New Jersey and Massachusetts. If it works right, it will replace what’s called ORPIN, which is the system the state and local governments use now.

Buying stuff for the state gets complicated, because there are many legal requirements. The hope is that the system will keep that in the background and government workers will be able to shop for goods more easily. It will automate a lot of the work. It might make it easier for smaller vendors to compete for state dollars. And the state should be able to better track spending and purchases and manage that data.

Will the cost of the OregonBuys be recouped in savings? We hope so. Will it fix the fundamental problem that people aren’t as careful when they spend other people’s money? No. But it should enable the state and the public to better monitor it.

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