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Kansas’ no-bid process sometimes makes obvious sense for cost, efficiency

Sam Williams, secretary of the Kansas Department of Revenue.
Sam Williams, secretary of the Kansas Department of Revenue.

Under the leadership of Gov. Jeff Colyer there is a renewed spirit of openness across Kansas government. It is in that spirit that I want to shine light on the initiative within the Department of Revenue to modernize the system used to process the taxes we pay.

A recent Eagle article (“No-bid contracts by Kansas agencies add up to $550M,” Sunday)questions whether Kansas skips the competitive bidding process too often, and highlights the contract the Department of Revenue entered in to with CGI to take over the maintenance of agency tax software.

As I shared with the media, including the Eagle, there are more details worth revealing. For example, CGI helped design the tax software the department has used since 1999. For many reasons, the software was not updated over the years, and agency IT staff did a great job keeping an outdated system in operation. Think of it like using a Windows 95 PC to file your taxes every year.

Because CGI was involved in the original design and development for the system already in place, partnering with them to update and maintain its latest version is the most cost-effective and streamlined option. No other vendor has the systemic knowledge to bring the software up to date. It would be like taking a Windows 95 PC to the Apple store and asking them to install the latest Microsoft release.

Meanwhile, starting from scratch and building a completely new system would have cost taxpayers significantly more.

Prior authorization is a legitimate state procurement process defined in statute for this very type of circumstance. The Eagle notes that it has been used 1,000 times in the last eight years. It is also important to note that there have been 5,897 state contracts put out for competitive bid during the same time. That’s because there is no doubt that competition can lead to the best service at the best price.

But there’s also no denying that there are conditions under which the best option is plainly obvious and to explore other routes would demand further time, money, and other resources with no reward in the end.

Leadership requires communication, openness, and decisiveness, knowing everyone may not agree with everything. I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead efforts to modernize our state’s tax agency to deliver faster and more effective customer service for taxpayers.

Sam Williams is secretary of the Kansas Department of Revenue.