April 7, 2005 Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs told the Senate Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee on Wednesday that his department was having a challenge to meet its mandate due to a severe staffing shortage and lack of funding.
Committee Chairman Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg held the hearing to take testimony on the operations of the department and to ascertain its needs.
Biggs said since he joined the department in 1999, Property and Procurement has gone from 188 employees to 122.
"It is safe to say that the department has felt the effects of a rigorous attrition program that continues to decrease the department's workforce," Biggs said. "In five years, the Department of Property and Procurement has lost 35 percent of its workforce without a reduction in work to be performed."
Property and Procurement is charged with the management of the rental properties owned or controlled by the government to include real, personal and surplus property; the contracting of construction and professional services; the operation of the government's printing office; warehousing and inventory activities for the government and distribution of its supplies; and the operation of Central Motor Pool and Mail Messenger service.
The Property and Procurement commissioner said the department is in need of contract administrators and contract technicians. It also needs skilled mechanics for its motor pool to cut back on external expenses for servicing the government's vehicles.
Biggs said despite the decrease in employees and the "severe fiscal constraints," the department continues to provide "high quality service" to other government departments and agencies, and to the entire community as required.
"We will continue to campaign for and demonstrably press for adequate and additional funding," Biggs said.
Biggs said as a "revenue-generating" agency, Property and Procurement should be giving adequate funding to produce more and bring in more money to the territory's coffers.
"Careful examination of our operation will undoubtedly reveal that the large volume of work processed and produced by our department is not by any stretch of the imagination reflected in our funding levels," Biggs said. "We are the government's buyer, contractor, landlord, printer, transportation provider, store and warehouse. Each one of these divisions, on an everyday basis produces."
He added, "However, funding levels to the department do not reflect its importance."
Biggs said the department receives $540,563 to pay for the salaries of the 16 employees in its Procurement Division, while his department brings in approximately $218.8 million each year. He called this "unconscionable."
"There is no way that that is fair," Biggs said. "If you give us more, we will do more."
Sen. Liston Davis asked Biggs if employee morale was low.
"I've noticed that the morale is dropping," Biggs said.
Davis also asked Biggs whether his department played a role in the controversial Elite contract. Biggs said his department had procured Elite's contract. The government later realized that Elite's application was flawed and contained many falsehoods.
"Without the proper funding it's hard to do due diligence," Biggs said, adding if he had adequate funding and staff, that incident could probably have been avoided. Biggs said he only has a staff of 16 five on St. Thomas and 11 on St. Croix to handle and review the government's contracts.
Sen. Louis P. Hill told Biggs his department needed money to produce more, but the executive branch has told Biggs his budget had to be cut due to insufficient funds.
"Strangely enough, the government has money to approve tax benefits," Hill said. "How do we justify that?"
Committee members attending Wednesday's hearing were: Sens. Davis, Donastorg, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone and Ronald Russell. Sen. Terrance "Positive" Nelson, who is currently in Denmark as a member of the delegation from the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance, was excused.
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