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The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History by Alan M. Wilner
Volume 216, Page 112   View pdf image (33K)
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The Overburdened Board: 1960-1983 111

pointed a wetlands administrator and charged him with, among other things, receiving
applications, conducting the hearings, and making appropriate recommendations to
the board. By 1974 applications for licenses were pouring in at the rate of over four
hundred a year, and so a second hearing officer was appointed. These two men continue
to process more than four hundred applications annually, holding the required hear-
ings and making recommendations to the board. In about 1 percent of the cases the
board itself conducts the hearing—usually where the project is substantial or contro-
versial or where a bond or compensation to the state may be required. Otherwise the
board cursorily reviews the hearing officers' recommendations and more or less rou-
tinely follows them.

The duties and responsibilities delegated to the board over the years have been
so varied that a common element among them really does not exist. The closest one
can come to such a common element is that of "procurement," in the broadest sense
of the term. A great deal of what the board does, in one way or another, can be said
to involve that function. In superintending the sale of state bonds, the board procures
purchasers of that debt; in overseeing the various construction projects authorized by
the General Assembly, it procures all manner of services and supplies from architects,
engineers, appraisers, consultants, contractors, and materialmen; in managing state
property, it procures buyers, sellers, lessors, and lessees, as well as the range of supplies
and services needed to keep the property in good repair. Indeed, those responsibilities
not involving the procurement function in some way can fairly be said to be collateral
for the board.

It is not surprising, then, that procurement, especially for construction, capital
equipment, and professional services, has been the center of attention—for the board
itself and for those who have studied or observed it. The manner in which state con-
tracts are let is obviously of great interest to many people, and particularly in recent
times it has become the focal point for such public attention as has been given to board

That attention has been, by and large, of two types: one, exemplified by the various
official or semiofficial reports examining board activities, has focused on the procure-
ment function generally, from a managerial or operational perspective; the other,
emanating primarily from the news media, and occasionally from disappointed bidders
or the General Assembly, has focused on particular actions or decisions. To some ex-
tent, of course, there is and always has been an overlap. Once the spotlight is placed
on a particular decision or action, it tends to move around and illuminate certain other
actions and indeed the underlying decision-making processes. But generally until
1979-80 these two frameworks of attention proceeded along different paths.

As we have seen, procurement—in the context of supervising the construction of
the House of Correction at Jessup, the normal school at Towson, and the tobacco
warehouses—was one of the first nonconstitutional duties given to the board, and it
quickly spread beyond construction into supplies and equipment. Not until 1920 and
the creation of the Central Purchasing Bureau was the board relieved of direct re-
sponsibility for procuring supplies and printing services,45 but it still remained re-
sponsible, as confirmed in 1939, for supervising "the expenditure of all sums appro-
priated for the acquisition of land, buildings, equipment, new construction and other

45. Acts of 1920, ch. 184. The bureau itself consisted of nineteen state officials, including the three members
of the Board of Public Works. Of greater importance than the bureau itself were the authorization for and
appointment of a purchasing agent to run the operation on a day-to-day basis. See also chapter 6.


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The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History by Alan M. Wilner
Volume 216, Page 112   View pdf image (33K)
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