Auditor Criticizes State Education Contracts
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State Auditor Stacey Pickering
Ezra Wall

The State Auditor is accusing the Mississippi Department of Education of using an illegal process to award contracts.  As MPB's Ezra Wall reports, the education department denies any illegal activity.

State Auditor Stacey Pickering says the Department of Education uses an illegal pool-based system of awarding contracts, instead of opening each contract to competitive bids.  He says which process to use is not just a matter of preference.

"The pool process is illegal, plain and simple," says Pickering. "State law stipulates DFA sets those rules and guidelines out and there's no authority that has been provided to our office that the Department of Education has the authority to use that method. It must follow the competitive bidding process. None of us are exempt from that process."

The Department of Education says it did get permission to choose from a pre-screened pool of contractors back in 2009, but as of May of this year, it now requires competitive bids. 

In fact, the Department's Chief Operating Officer Felicia Gavin says they have implemented a number of changes since she came on board in February.

"We revised our contract procurement policy, we've actually hired a compliance manager...and we've done some reorganizing of the accounting staff," says Gavin. "We have a new accounting director and we've reorganized in terms of making sure there is more accountability."

Even with the release of the audits, Pickering is still looking for information from state employees and the public. 

"They can call our number, 1-800-321-1275, ask to speak to our investigative division, or go to our website, osa.ms.gov," says Pickering. "Click on the red 'Report Fraud' tab and everything is self-explanatory and will walk them right through how to report fraud, waste and abuse."

The Department of Education says it will have more to say after officials have had time to review the audit reports.