Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, is trying to pass a bill to let state agencies drop out of cooperative purchasing agreements if they can get better prices on the same goods and services from local vendors.
He told the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Thursday that a state contract with a company called Grainger is at the heart of his bill.
According to a packet he shared with the committee, vendors from Hagerstown and the surrounding area could sell the state certain parts and supplies for a little or a lot less than Grainger charges.
Examples from the list, looking only at purchases for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, include:
- Electrical connectors: $79.49 from Tristate Electrical Supply in Hagerstown, $721.75 from Grainger in 2010
- Copper fittings: $972.71 from Foltz Manufacturing & Supply Co. in Hagerstown, $1,660.75 from Grainger in 2010
- Fan and air-handler belts: $667.08 from Transply, $1,762.56 from Grainger in 2010
- Belts: $652.52 from Apparatus Repair & Engineering in Hagerstown, $1,432.81 from Grainger in 2010.
Shank said his office compiled the list of more than two dozen cost comparisons during the last two years.
“We have contacted the Department of General Services, to no avail, to try to remedy the situation,” he told the committee.
The department’s response mentioned “price versus cost, and to this day, I have no idea what they’re talking about,” he said.
Contacted on Friday, representatives for Grainger and the Department of General Services, which purchases supplies and materials for most state agencies, hadn’t seen the chart of cost comparisons and couldn’t comment on them.
However, DGS spokeswoman Susan Woods said the department looks at “the best overall deal for taxpayers,” not the cost of a few specific items, when considering purchasing contracts.
Grainger spokeswoman Debra Ceffalio said multiple governments often join together to negotiate discounts for bulk purchases.
“We’re really confident that our contract is saving the state time and money,” she said.
However, Shank told the committee Grainger “is nothing more than a catalog that you open up and order parts from, but it costs a tremendous amount of money more.”
He said local businesses “right around the block” could give the state better prices and supply parts in hours or days, instead of weeks.
Ceffalio said Grainger is based in Chicago, but has six locations in Maryland, with about 100 employees, and can fill orders quickly through its nationwide distribution center network.
Some vendors on the comparison chart are based in or around Hagerstown, but others are based elsewhere and have Tri-State branches or dealers.