The West Virginia Division of Highways says it needs outside help in its push to repair the state's secondary roads, which are deteriorating faster than the DoH can fix them.
Admitting there is a problem is good. The solution the DoH is looking at is not so good. It makes us wonder, and probably much of the public, too, what taxpayers are paying leaders of the department to do.
According to a request for quotes issued by the DoH, the agency is seeking an "open-end contract for consulting services to assist with coordination and oversight of the governor's secondary road maintenance initiative."
The contract will require extensive travel statewide "to coordinate with both district and county (Highways) offices regarding roadway maintenance, status of road projects and related equipment needs," as reported last week by Phil Kabler of The Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Extensive travel will also be required to meet with "industry representatives" regarding maintenance projects, according to the RFQ.
Additionally, the winning bidder will serve as a "liaison of the agency with the Legislature and West Virginia governor's office."
The contract also calls on the winning bidder to consult with the state transportation secretary and the commissioner of highways, as requested, on "activities, complaints, issues and observations regarding roadways."
Although the contract is open-ended, the bid sheet requires bidders to quote a daily rate of compensation for a total of 150 days, or 30 work weeks.
All those activities sound like the kind of work that top officials in the DoH, which has about 5,000 employees, should be doing. But judging from the specifications listed above, the DoH does not have anyone who can perform this work. That raises the question: Why not?
It's not as if the DoH is hurting for money to hire one, two or three people to do this work. This past session, the Legislature appropriated $104 million of budget surplus money to the DoH for secondary road maintenance. Also, the DoH moved about $140 million of Roads for Prosperity bond money to secondary road work.
In short, such work should be under the direct control of the commissioner of highways and carried out by DoH employees.
The state's maintenance and repair of secondary roads has been a problem for many years. Rather than admit there is a problem internally and correcting it internally, DoH officials are handing that job off to an outside contractor. That allows DoH managers to avoid the messy but necessary task of clearing out policies or people who get in the way of getting work done. It's an easy out that should be avoided, as it does little to prevent the same problem from occurring later.
There is also recent history to consider. As has been noted many times before, recovery efforts from the disastrous floods of 2016 has been botched from beginning to end, in part because of reliance by the state and communities on consultants who have been paid well despite providing little help to flood victims. Remember the one consulting contract that started out at about $1 million and ballooned into a nearly $18 million contract? The state doesn't need any more open-ended contracts.
The DoH on Friday was scheduled to open bids on its request for quotes on Friday. The DoH would do better to recruit someone to take charge of the secondary road problem or else promote someone from within.
Hiring an outside firm is not the best idea, and using an open-ended contract takes it from undesirable to unacceptable.