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State profiting on federal ‘freebies’

Richard D. L. Fulton

(1/19) Anything that seems to be too good to be true, probably is. That’s what Frederick County government has learned regarding accepting "freebies" from the federal government.

According to Frederick County Commissioner William "Billy" Shreve, the State of Maryland has been routinely surcharging supplies being given away from the federal government to other governmental entities.

"It’s like a smoke and mirrors kind of thing," Shreve told the News-Journal.

The commissioner stated that the federal Government Services Administration (GSA) is charged with disposing of excess federal property, which can include anything from surplus cases of paper to computers to boats. "It could be anything," he said.

That surplus is given away by GSA to other local, county and state governmental entities. The buyer simply has to pick up the acquisition and transport it back to where the items will be used.

Except, Maryland charges government entities within Maryland an assessed fee to authorize the acquisition, property that has already been purchased once by the federal government using tax payers’ money.

Case in point: William Boyer, executive director of Technology Services for the county Department of Education, recently acquired $175,000 worth of paper free-of-charge from the GSA warehouse in Springfield, Virginia, for the department.

In order to complete the transaction, Boyer had to apply to the Maryland Department of General Services (DGS), who then assessed the value of the paper, and placed, at first, a $13,000 surcharge that the county Department of Education had to pay the state before they would approved the acceptance of the free paper.

Boyer did negotiate the surcharge down to $3,000, then had to pay that to get the free paper from the federal government.

Shreve stated, "He then has to pay a Maryland tax on something that is sitting in Virginia at a federal warehouse."

"The paper has already been paid for with tax dollars," he said. "Now we have to pay again. We shouldn’t have to pay (Maryland) taxes on it…how many times can you charge the tax payer for the same item? It’s just insane."

Executive director Boyer told the News-Journal that Maryland charging for freebies doesn’t just involve those coming from the federal GSA. "Other supplies come from a variety of sources, such as the National Institute of Health, for instance, or a federal contractor," he said.

The state doesn’t allow state entities to acquire even free federal surplus without paying the state a surcharge, he said. "Maryland says you have to go through us because you’re a Maryland group."

"The school system is trying to save money as it is," Boyer said. "I want a (state) system that will enable us to get things without spending more money. The federal government has tons of equipment we could get for nothing, except I have to pay the state to take it."

Shreve is determined to get legislators to take another look at eliminating "this tax."

"My first step," he said, "is that I have already contacted Delegate Kelly M. Schulz and she said she would look into it and try to help us change it."

"State delegation needs to work with the comptrollers office and change the law and bring this issue to the forefront and try to change it," he stated.

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