April 1, 2010
Wesley Burt

Oklahomans believe state agencies should use competitive bid process when seeking outside legal counsel

Results of a recent SoonerPoll find most Oklahomans believe state agencies seeking outside legal council should use competitive bid process enforced upon state contractors. The majority - 62.7 percent � of Oklahomans said state agencies should follow the competitive bid process, while only 20.1 percent of Oklahomans disagreed.

�The results of the survey show that most Oklahomans would like to see legislation addressing the competitive bid process in relation to state agencies that seek outside legal counsel,� Dr. Keith Gaddie, Vice-President of SoonerPoll, said., Oklahoma�s public opinion pollster, conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 1000 likely voters from February 25 � March 8. The study has a margin of error of � 3.1 percent.

Under the Oklahoma Public Competitive Bidding Act of 1974 all contracts exceeding $12,500 awarded by any public agency for the purpose of public improvements or constructing any public building must be given to the lowest responsible bidder after solicitation for sealed bids.

The purpose of competitive bidding is to stimulate competition and prevent favoritism while securing the best work and materials at the lowest cost, now many Oklahomans would like that same concept should apply for state agencies looking for outside legal counsel.

House Bill 2167 would have amended the Competitive Bidding Act of 1974 to require state agencies to use the competitive bid process when seeking outside legal counsel when fees and services were expected to be more than $5,000. HB 2167 passed in the house but was vetoed by Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry in May 2009.

�Voters view retention of counsel by public agencies as another contract relationship in need of oversight,� Gaddie said. Gaddie went on to explain that the issue is not a partisan one, in fact, further analysis of the results show there are no differences among Republicans, Democrats and Independents in terms of support for the issue.

However, further results did show that among those who had an unfavorable opinion of trial lawyers 68.2 percent were in favor of the competitive bid process for outside legal counsel while slightly fewer - 59.6 percent - of those with a very favorable opinion of trial lawyers were in favor.

In his veto message Henry said that the bill was well intended and had many good provisions, but �the legislation potentially does more harm than good because of its unintended consequences.�

This is not the first time Governor Henry has found himself on the other side of public opinion, past polls have shown that Henry is often on the other side of public opinion, though his approval rating remains high.

On March 10, 2010 Senate Bill 1379, which is similar to the one Henry vetoed last session, passed in the State Senate with a 43-0 vote.

Wesley Burt
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Wesley Burt