State law could cost UI millions in research funding

State law could cost UI millions in research funding

URBANA – The University of Illinois could lose millions of dollars in federal grant money for a single researcher because a California company is balking at the paperwork and guarantees required by a state law designed to fight corruption.

Scott White, a professor of aerospace engineering, might not be able to use about $11.5 million in two Air Force grants for materials research, because his California supplier decided it wasn't worth the trouble, for a roughly $70,000 sale, to follow the requirements under Public Act 96-0795, a law aimed at preventing corruption in a state infamous for it.

"I feel an extreme sense of frustration after many months of trying to make this work," said White, one of the Urbana campus' best-known researchers.

An autoclave – a device he employs to cure a self-healing composite material – is no longer functional, and White said he would not be able to meet the conditions of his grants without one.

White said he hoped there was a workaround.

"I have to think that somebody will wake up somehow and make it work, but I don't know how that would happen," he said.

Asked if his frustrations could lead to looking for a university position outside Illinois, White said, "if I can't do the kind of research I need to do, and deliver on that kind of research, this is not a viable situation."

The bill creates the requirements for many state institutions, including all state schools, without giving them additional money to enact its reforms.

The Urbana campus could also be slow in paying its vendors and will face much greater time demands for purchases, under the law, which began to go into effect in July.

White may not the only researcher who has major grant money in danger, said Robin Kaler, the chief spokeswoman for the Urbana campus.

"It's a statewide problem," she said.

Kaler said many UI employees are unhappy with the unintended consequences of the law, passed in the wake of the troubled Blagojevich administration.

"I would say the intention behind the law is good and honorable," Kaler said. "In practice, it is creating obstacles that could adversely affect the university and its ability to attract the best faculty. That's true for every public institution" of public learning.

Kaler said White's problem is not unique. When a profit is not high, a company may decide it's not worth the expense of time and effort, including registering as a company doing business to Illinois.

"They have no compelling reason to comply with all of the rules and paperwork expenses that it would take to be able to sell this part to us," she said.

"I don't know of anyone else here (having White's problem) right now, but I'm sure it will impact hundreds of purchases in the coming year."

The bill's area co-sponsors include state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, and state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville. Frerichs could not be reached for comment Friday.

Black said he's heard some complaints from vendors.

"We tried over the years to reform this. You take a step forward and a step back. Change never comes easily. If we have a made a mistake, there will be a will to fine-tune any bill that we do. The old system was rife with problems; if the new system has some rough edges, let's sand those down," he said.

Black said Illinois has a long history of no-bid contract and sole-source contracts.

"Change is coming very slowly to Illinois. We just spend an awful lot of money, and I'm not always convinced we're getting the best value for the taxpayer."

But in the meantime, UI employees are learning to work with a much more complex procurement process.

Catherine Reisner, the associate director of purchasing, told department heads Friday to expect delays and more paperwork under the law.

"Start early," she advised the staffers ordering purchases or services.

According to UI documents, the law is especially stringent for higher-level purchases – over $20,000 for professional and artist purposes, $51,300 for commodities, services and equipment, and $72,000 for construction.

Under a UI timeline, a bid could require 30 days for preparation, more for complex proposals; a minimum 14 days for bulletin posting; an indeterminate time for review responses.

After the contract is signed, the timeline notes, a 30-day review period starts, followed by 60 days' lead time for board of trustees action, and then the vote by the board.

Reisner has also worked at the required Wednesday hearings for complaints by vendors who are not selected, whether anybody shows up or not.

"I often talk to four walls. I have a script I have to read," she said.

The law has also created new hierarchies of administration.

UI Comptroller Walter Knorr used to be the university's chief procurement officer, but the state now has a compliance administrator and office for all higher education in Illinois, headed by Ben Bagby in Springfield.

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kiel wrote on October 29, 2010 at 11:10 pm

And Assembly Hall and Krannert are in danger of losing hundreds of thousands--or more--if performers decide it's not worth doing all the extra paperwork now required of "vendors." The law is well-intentioned, yet it will, in the long run, cost the U (and other state institutions) FAR more money in admin and overhead--not to mention lost contracts. What's that saying? "The road to insolvency is paved with good intentions." Or something like that....

Wesley of Champaign wrote on October 30, 2010 at 5:10 am

The solution, complete transparency of spending by elected officials of taxpayer monies. Recall law for all elected officials. Accountability is the only solutation to corruption. Selling assets to pay for poor spending habits? Thats something I did when I was a kid. The citizens of Illinois can't stop this madness November 2, 2010. The problem is that several of the people running for office here in Illinois are liers and bankrupters. Illinois can't even produce good canidates. We have to choose from the lesser of two evils. Hey wait........lets sell the Lottery and some toll roads so we can fund this project, no need to worry about the existing bills right now, we'll raise taxes. Thats right!

EdRyan wrote on October 30, 2010 at 6:10 am

Term Limits!!!!! Add that to transparency. Two terms and out. No "professional" career politicians.

Carolan wrote on October 30, 2010 at 8:10 am

Term limits are NOT the answer. Look at California. They have term limits: 6 years for the Assembly and 8 years for the Senate. What has it produced? An increasing dependence on lobbyists and special interests by inexperienced legislators.

tominmadison wrote on October 30, 2010 at 10:10 am

What did you expect? UIUC engages in years of corruption, gets caught, and then whines about extra scrutiny. Yeah....that's what Illinois and UIUC need...less oversight. You made the bed....

John O'Connor wrote on October 30, 2010 at 8:10 pm

"...passed in the wake of the troubled Blagojevich administration."

Now that's pretty one sided. Sure, Blago engaged in corruption, but corruption is a very bipartisan practice. Just look to the current residence of the previous, Republican, governor.

I expect extreme partisanship on the editorial page, but in a news article too?

edit: I criticized Ryan for his corrupt activity but I also very much support the death penalty moratorium he initiated.

ronaldo wrote on November 05, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Ryan was a RINO. He was liberal, plain and simple. He didn't have a conservative bone in his body. He was anti-gun. He was anti-death penalty. He was pro-abortion. And he never got my vote. I voted for Poshard. Who did you vote for?

Irrelevant party names aside, looks like the last two liberal governors of the state of IL are either in jail or headed there.

mendys wrote on November 09, 2010 at 11:11 pm

While you don't cite any evidence and just throw out ad hominem attacks at Republicans, there is a missing piece to your quote: "Now that's pretty one sided." The article didn't say corruption was a monopoly held by the Democrats (hello! did you even read the article?). Simply put, this legislation, if one bothered to read the history around it (hey, look it up on the Illinois General Assembly website) was during the Blago corruption scandal (maybe you prefer another word for "corruption scandal," but so you don't disagree with what I didn't say the way you did the News-Gazette article, I would also agree that in a totally different area that has nothing to do with anything I've said that, yes, Ryan also is in the federal pen and Senegal has had lots of problems with government officials as well). :)

Surely, the article would have been funny if the statement you quoted said, " . . . passed in the wake of the troubled Blagojevich and Ryan administration." They both didn't have an administration at the same time. Also, the legislation was passed when Blago was governor. Maybe you believe "troubled" is "extreme partisianship." Certainly, that could be an argument . . . if being impeached doesn't imply troubled.

John O'Connor wrote on November 10, 2010 at 8:11 am

Uh, aside from the fact that it's hardly necessary to cite evidence that Democrats are no more corrupt than Republicans, I did in fact, as you later note, allude to the fact that our last Republican governor is now residing in the federal pen. Do you not consider that evidence?

The article said that the law was passed in response to the corrupt Blago admin with no reference to Republican corruption. I stand by my assertion that that was one sided.

You then wrote: "but so you don't disagree with what I didn't say the way you did the News-Gazette article, I would also agree that in a totally different area that has nothing to do with anything I've said that, yes, Ryan also is in the federal pen and Senegal has had lots of problems with government officials as well). :)"

I'm not sure, but it appears you are acknowledging that Ryan is in federal prison but that this somehow has nothing to do with Republican corruption. I'd advise you to take your own advice and brush up on very recent state history: people died because of his corruption. Even though I admire him for instituting the death penalty moratorium, that is an inescapable fact.

And your last point actually gets to the heart of my complaint. Yes, it would of course be silly to mention Blago and Ryan and then use the singular form of the 'administration,' but surely they could use the plural, no?

mendys wrote on November 11, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I was poking fun at you. When I don't cite exact evidence, as you just did, you dismiss me and go off on a tirade. When you do it, it is logical [to you, that is]. That is sarcasm. You want equal mention of Republicans when Democrats are mentioned. That is fine, but that was and is not the point of this article. The article is about an unintentional problem because of how the Blagojevich administration dealt with vendors. I guess the article could have mentioned out of the blue that the Secretary of State's office had problems with George Ryan. Ok. People died. And how does this fit in to a story on General Assembly reforms because of actions of then Governor Blagojevich? Hardly relevant. (It is true! Don't act like I didn't acknowledge the obvious, but just because something isn't mentioned because the NG isn't the Internet where everything can be published, doesn't mean I see your conspiracy.)

At least you see my humor . . . they were not one administration! That is what brings out the hilarity of my quote! Kudos for you picking it up, even if you didn't get it. (Just like you paraphrasing my "but surely" spiel!) Grin. :)

Finally, I have had problems with the NG and AP articles being one sided. Fortunately, the NG actually did a bang up job here. The history -- even if you want a different history -- is what it is. Hey, don't believe me, check the transcripts of the General Assembly. Keep up the good work News Gazette. Keep articles about vendor corruption under Blago and problems with the U of I on topic without adding that also, there was a Republican scandal a decade ago and people died (as well as today is Veteran's Day? Why did you leave that out? Against veterans? Hmm).

John O'Connor wrote on November 11, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Well, it's not that I didn't think your comment was quite humorous. It's just clear you want to minimize Republican corruption and play up Democratic corruption. Fine. But don't play at being objective.

ronaldo wrote on November 14, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Get used to the lack of evidence, stats, links, etc. It's par for his course.

mendys wrote on November 13, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Then the following is your rule for the News-Gazette's objectivity. Don't pretend otherwise! Why didn't the article also mention Watergate? Iran-Contra? The Tea Pot Dome Scandal? All of these are Republican scandals. Maybe the News-Gazette is really owned by Fox News and George Bush (who is surely the great nephew of George Ryan, twice removed!).

The fact is you want to mention, out of the blue, George Ryan, when the article is about the legislative history that explicitly mentioned Rod Blagojevich in the General Assembly transcripts. It would be utterly insane (to the rest of us, but to present both sides, not you) to say, "Kaler said many UI employees are unhappy with the unintended consequences of the law, passed in the wake of the troubled Blagojevich administration. In an unrelated development, REPUBLICAN George Ryan was sent to Federal prison in 2007 for corruption in what had nothing to do with the current case. It is the policy of the News-Gazette to always bring up random facts that have nothing to do with the current article to maintain objectivity."

Why didn't the News-Gazette article about George Ryan's sentence to Federal prison mention Rod Blagojevich and Filegate? While I'm sure you did or will complain about that iniquity, I would lambaste the News-Gazette for sophomoric writing if they did (since talking off topic or mentioning random facts would make anyone's reading difficult to follow and would also bring into question the qualifications of the News-Gazette's reporters' semi-college education).

I guess we will have to agree to disagree.You're right. Adding irrelevant facts, especially when talking about Democrat problems, is a must. I think the facts of the legislative history that mentioned Rod Blagojevich should be mentioned. Silly me! Not because the legislative history mentioned Rod Blagojevich -- heck, if it said Mendy S. or Ronald Reagan, I'd think they would have to be mentioned (interesting that all the legislators also fit your example of being subjective, like me, because they didn't bring up George Ryan in this instance when Rod's own party was investigating him for complaints; also, when they changed laws about the Secretary of State's office in the wake of George Ryan's scandal, they were subjective again and didn't talk about Rod Blagojevich or Whitewater).

Double standard or sanity? You've decided. I look forward to John O'Connor's Elements of 'Riting. In the mean time, if this makes me and the News-Gazette subjective, I for one will proudly wear that honor. Act and all.

John O'Connor wrote on November 13, 2010 at 2:11 pm

The Teapot Dome Scandal? Okay, sure.

You seem to be quite defensive and even agitated about this whole thing. You know as well as I do that corruption is a bipartisan tradition all over this state. Do you really think everything was squeaky clean before Blago?

You can't seriously be making that claim. So why not mention Republican as well as Democratic corruption. It doesn't seem like that big of a hardship and it is quite relevant. It's the history of corruption that impelled this clumsy law.

mendys wrote on November 15, 2010 at 7:11 am

You belittle others for reading people's mind, yet you know I am "quite defensive and even agitated." The armchair psychological diagnosis is amusing but not factual.

I've never said everything was squeaky clean. Quite the opposite. If I have, please quote me! That is why I listed tons of Republican corruption scandals, going back to U.S. Grant. Part was for humor, but part is that the NG has to make a decision about what is relevant. You state, "Do you really think everything was squeaky clean before Blago?" If I believed that, I wouldn't have mentioned the two major scandals George Ryan was in as governor and the myriad of others.

The NG was paraphrasing what Robin Kaler said. This was and is not the NG's analysis. Even the legislative history at the time connected this with Blago; the recent history is what propelled Blago's own party to chide his practices. I think the standard is you publish what people tell you and the legislative record. The long history you cite was and is not in this legislative debate. That doesn't mean that it didn't exist, but on the face, I don't know the history of vendors over the last century in Illinois. Maybe you've read a historical tome on it or personally dealt with such matters in your life from 1978-2002. I haven't, and I would imagine the NG reporter didn't have time to become an expert to fully "vet" Kaler's take on the situation. I do know that the General Assembly referenced Blago, and Kaler then quoted what she apparently was told and heard. Simply put, no one was pointing fingers at Ryan, Thompson, Kearns, or Altgeld.

John O'Connor wrote on November 15, 2010 at 9:11 am

Well, the evidence that you were/are "quite defensive and even agitated" in your previous comment seems quite clear. No mind reading or psychology degree is necessary. You deliberately descended into ad absurdem argument by bringing up the Tea Pot Dome scandal.

Reporters are hardly constrained by what one source references. It's a simple criticism and I'm not sure why you're so defensive about it.

ronaldo wrote on November 15, 2010 at 9:11 am

As was the evidence that you proceeded with the conversation about dorms being "welfare housing" and your defense of them as though they were being funded by tax dollars - when they weren't. In your own words, "No mind reading or psychology degree is necessary." So are you the pot or the kettle in this round? I've lost track in your latest volleying rally.

And why not be defensive when your standard ad hoc strategy for debate is to hit the "suggest removal" button to silence those who expose your arguments as weak? You're all too often rude and abusive in your replies, often avoiding the topic altogether, and I just don't see others having YOUR replies removed as an act of desperation.

John O'Connor wrote on November 15, 2010 at 10:11 am

Please provide a quote of me being 'rude and abusive.'

The NG has removed several of your posts because you seem to follow me around on here and attack me, usually with completely inaccurate statements. I have never suggested a comment should be removed. Of course, I have no way to prove that and I'm sure you won't believe me, just as you'll cling to your misinterpretation of my response to the 'welfare dorms' silliness.