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The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History by Alan M. Wilner
Volume 216, Page 113   View pdf image (33K)
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112 Board of Public Works

capital expenditures," except in connection with "roads, bridges, and highways," as
well as for approving all contracts for the expenditure of loan proceeds.46

The 1939 act, as has been noted, created the Department of Budget and Procure-
ment, headed by the erstwhile purchasing agent, Walter Kirkman, and that depart-
ment provided staff assistance to the board in connection with construction procure-
ment matters. But although that department and its successors—the Department of
Public Improvements created in 1949 and the Department of General Services created
in 1970—did a great deal of the detail work, the contracts themselves, and all amend-
ments to them, still had to be submitted to and approved by the board.

That flow of paperwork, often involving relatively miniscule amounts or routine
change orders over which there was no dispute, was the primary concern of the various
commissions and task forces studying the board and its activities, beginning with the
Sobeloff-Stockbridge Commission in 1951-52. Each successive study commission urged
that these small and routine matters be delegated to the executive control agencies
and withdrawn from full board review. There was no public disagreement with either
the assessment that the board was being unnecessarily inundated with minutia or
with the recommendations made to correct the problem. Nor was there any public
clamor for changing the system, however, so nothing was done. The board's meetings
became longer and more frequent. The work got done; the board simply coped.

It was the second type of attention—more particular and more dramatic—that
caused the most commotion and directed public attention to how the board discharged
its procurement function. Interestingly, the genesis of that attention did not even
involve the board.

In 1973 allegations were made, and highly publicized, that, while governor of
Maryland, Spiro Agnew had been the linchpin in a bribery and extortion conspiracy
involving the selection of architects and engineers on state road, bridge, and tunnel
projects. These projects, under the law, were considered exempt from board jurisdiction
and thus never came before it.47 Such projects were controlled instead by the State
Roads Commission, and indeed the chairman of that commission was alleged to be
part of the conspiracy. Nevertheless, once lit, the spotlight moved around and soon
focused on the overall process by which professional services—particularly those of
an architectural or engineering nature—were obtained, and that, of course, did involve
the board. There was considerable public clamor for total competitive bidding for these
services—requiring that the procuring agency prepare specifications and solicit bids
and that the board award the service contract to the low bidder. The architect and
engineering societies, on the other hand, very much opposed such requirements, in-
sisting that professional services were not susceptible to competitive bidding.

Seeking advice on the matter, Governor Mandel appointed a task force chaired
by Dr. Abel Wolman, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University, to review the
various methods used by the federal government and other states to select architects
and engineers for capital projects and to make appropriate recommendations for
changes in the methods used by the Maryland state agencies. The task force report,

46. Acts of 1939, ch. 64. See also chapter 7.

47. Prior to the creation of the Department of Transportation (DOT) in 1970, it was clear that the board
had little or no jurisdiction over transportation projects committed by law to the State Roads Commission.
For one thing, they nearly always involved either roads, bridges, or tunnels, which were excepted from the
purview of art. 78A, sec. 7, of the Code, and for another they were not normally financed with state general
obligation bonds and thus probably did not fall within the board's authority under art. 78A, sec. 1. In any
event the board never attempted to interfere with the commission's contracting prerogatives. The situation
is somewhat different today. Approval of the board is required for the sale of consolidated transportation
bonds, used to finance nearly all capital projects of the department ( Md. Ann. Code, Transportation Article,
sec. 3-207), the issuance of revenue anticipation notes (sec. 3-211), service contracts such as those involved
in the Agnew scandal (sees. 2-103 [h], 2-310, 2-316), acquisition of railroad corridor property (sec. 2-105),
use of surplus funds in the Transportation Authority Fund (sees. 4—313, 4—314), and a host of other matters.


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The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History by Alan M. Wilner
Volume 216, Page 113   View pdf image (33K)
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