June 23, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

State agencies issue millions in emergency purchase orders amid covid outbreak


The S.C. Department of Transportation initially wanted more than $1 million worth of hand sanitizer.

The state Department of Administration requested 1,500 laptop computers and related equipment totaling nearly $468,000.

The Department of Employment and Workforce sought an out-of-state technology firm with a reduced annual “subscription fee” of $74,371 for its services.

The proposals were among an initial estimated $12.6 million in emergency purchase orders issued as of April 21 by 13 state agencies in response to the coronavirus outbreak in South Carolina, according to The Nerve’s review of records provided by the Department of Administration under the state open-records law.

The purchase orders were allowed by Gov. Henry McMaster as part of his March 19 emergency order, which was subsequently renewed by him, including again on Wednesday. McMaster in his executive orders allowed the suspension of existing state procurement regulations if “strict compliance” with those provisions would “in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the emergency.”

State lawmakers in March approved $45 million in emergency funding for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, though, as The Nerve revealed earlier this month, the agency had spent less than 10% of the total through April. DHEC director Rick Toomey resigned Wednesday, citing health and family reasons, according to media reports.

The Nerve’s latest review of Department of Administration records found that DHEC had issued a total projected $8 million in emergency purchase orders through April 21 – the largest total among the 13 state agencies – though collective invoiced amounts as of that date were about $1.6 million.

The items initially sought by DHEC included an estimated $5.8 million in N95 face masks and other medical masks, records show. The agency also issued emergency purchase orders for services provided by technology and cleaning companies.

Other health-related state agencies, including the departments of Health and Human Services, Mental Health, and Disabilities and Special Needs, also issued emergency purchase orders, records show. DDSN, for example, issued a projected total $70,684 in purchase orders for face shields, masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and other items. It also was billed for laptop computers purchased from Dell Marketing in Atlanta and totaling about $8,600.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles said it needed to spend a total of $36,900 for “management console licenses” for 300 laptops it acquired from the Department of Administration to allow DMV employees to work from home during the state of emergency, according to agency records provided to The Nerve.

Records also show that DMV sought an emergency procurement totaling an estimated $34,800 for two employees of TekSystems, a Maryland-based technology company, to “facilitate Agency employees to be able to work from home during the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

McMaster on March 19 temporarily banned all “non-essential” state employees from working on-site, leaving it up to individual agencies to determine which employees could work from home.

In its written response to The Nerve’s state Freedom of Information Act request, the Department of Administration didn’t specify why it needed 1,500 laptop computers and “associated freight,” totaling $467,886, from the Greenville division of Massachusetts-based NWN Corp. An agency spokeswoman didn’t respond Thursday to follow-up written questions.

The Nerve on Thursday asked the state Department of Employment and Workforce why it issued emergency purchase orders for products or services from five in- or out-of-state technology companies. That included an initial proposed $148,742 “subscription fee” for one year of services provided by Minnesota-based Sagitec Solutions, which later was reduced to $74,371, according to Department of Administration records.

A DEW spokeswoman instructed The Nerve to submit a formal open-records request for agency records related to the five technology companies. Department of Administration records show that DEW issued emergency purchase orders totaling an estimated $1.38 million as of April 21, though there were no invoiced amounts as of that date.

In a written reply Thursday, Adrienne Fairwell, spokeswoman for South Carolina ETV, said the agency is partnering with the state Department of Education and SpectraRep, a Virginia-based technology company, to provide “datacasting technology to support students without access to broadband,” noting the company to date has been paid a total of $21,250.

The Department of Transportation did not respond to written questions Thursday from The Nerve seeking answers about its total projected $1.34 million in emergency purchase orders, most of it for hand sanitizer from three in-state distilleries: Hollow Creek Distillery in Leesville, Palmetto Distillery in Anderson, and Six & Twenty Distillery in Powdersville. The invoiced amounts as of that date totaled $470,306, records show.

Following is a breakdown of the total initial estimated dollar amount of purchase orders issued by the 13 state agencies as of April 21, according to Department of Administration records:

  • Department of Health and Environmental Control: $8.06 million;
  • Department of Employment and Workforce: $1.38 million;
  • Department of Transportation: $1.34 million;
  • Department of Administration: $811,913;
  • State Election Commission: $446,047;
  • Department of Corrections: $201,197;
  • Department of Mental Health: $154,638;
  • Department of Motor Vehicles: $71,700;
  • Department of Disabilities and Special Needs: $70,684;
  • State Law Enforcement Division: $43,298;
  • Department of Health and Human Services: $22,846;
  • South Carolina ETV: $21,250;
  • Department of Education: $14,040

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

Nerve stories are free to reprint and repost with permission by and credit to The Nerve.

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