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280 Kane St. STE #2
South Williamsport, PA
United States

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No Heavy Hammer Here

One of the urban legends of government spending is the $600 hammer. Immortalized by everyone from late-night comedians to political leaders, the infamous military hammer was simply a bundled purchase with many different spare parts, some very expensive. For bookkeeping purposes, all the items on the list were allocated engineering expenses divided equally, so the

One of the urban legends of government spending is the $600 hammer. Immortalized by everyone from late-night comedians to political leaders, the infamous military hammer was simply a bundled purchase with many different spare parts, some very expensive. For bookkeeping purposes, all the items on the list were allocated engineering expenses divided equally, so the $15 hammer had tacked on to the same engineering cost, $420, as every other item. Somehow, a journalist ‘rounded up’ the $435 hammer to $600, and thus the myth was made.

The truth is, however, that government must pay more for the same items that the general public would buy, but there are reasons for this. Virtually everything that government buys, falls under very exacting procurement laws that are designed (at least, in principle), to avoid waste, fraud, and abuse.

The individual who must wade through this bureaucratic maze is Mya Toon, Lycoming County’s Chief Procurement Officer, a Certified Professional Public Buyer. A graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Mya had aspirations of becoming a lawyer, but when the opportunity opened up thirteen years ago to work at Lycoming County as a procurement officer, it was too good to let pass.

Mya’s work could be described as a combination of accountant, lawyer, and maybe even magician. Any service needed or item for purchase by the county is covered by procurement laws. By such laws, if the service or item would cost between $10,700 and $19,699, bids must be put out to solicit a minimum of three written quotes. Failure to acquire the minimum three quotes means that the bids must be put out again, and if there is still not three, then the county is free to acquire the item or service at the best possible price available. If the cost is over $19,699, formal solicitation or an RFP (Request for Proposals) is required.

But that is only the very surface, there are layers upon layers on top of these requirements. Professional services, copyright, insurance, and others all have exceptions. Mya states that she must speak with the county solicitor on a daily basis. (Which she does not mind, since after all, she did want to be a lawyer herself).

While most of us would find these details exceedingly frustrating, Mya Toon finds this whole process quite fascinating. Mya does not just comply with the law, she uses it to her advantage. Even it is not required, Mya likes to put out bids even if is below the $10,700 minimum, just to ensure that she is covering the bases. She handles the property management leasing for the county and the contracts relating to property maintenance. She scours the Pennsylvania General Services website to find acceptable contact vendors who have already acquired bids from the state that the county can piggy-back on. She works with the county partners such as CEDA-Council of Governments, a public development organization serving 11 Central Pennsylvania counties, for Lycoming County’s Community Development Block Grants. In all of this, there are as many as 70 to 100 grant contracts to oversee or manage at any one time.

Keeping track of all this is where Mya the Magician comes in. In the old days, everything was on paper, and tracking all these various projects and contracts was exceedingly difficult. Mya developed a contract database system that now keeps track of every contract. If the commissioners want to know the status of a project or look at a contract from years gone by for comparison purposes, Mya is able to pull it up in an instant. When emergency contracts come up, like the three that popped up in last Thursday’s County Commissioners Meeting, Mya has all the info she needs to get the required action.

The county is not buying any $600 hammers any time in the future, that’s for sure. What is for sure is that any hammers the county will get will be the best price that the county could get, given the restraints of the law. When nearly $100 million goes through the county coffers, it is reassuring that public servants like Mya Toon, and the rest of the Department of Fiscal Services, work so hard to ensure that the county is getting the best bang for its buck.

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