SANTA FE (AP) — The New Mexico auditor’s office is looking into a $1.6 million purchase of 500,000 masks at a significantly higher cost than the normal list price as states scrambled to buy personal protective equipment.
The state Health Department bought the masks from a Chinese company in April at a price that was between two to four times the normal price for similar masks made by a U.S. manufacturer, according to an invoice and purchase order obtained by the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Auditor Brian Colón said there are concerns with these types of purchases and the risks they present, especially during a crisis when supplies may be low or shortages may exist. He said these types of purchases will be assessed during the audit process.
“We cannot afford any waste, fraud or abuse of these funds,” he said.
Because there was no national system to coordinate coronavirus-related purchases for states, New Mexico faced unprecedented demand for protective gear from other states and globally, the Health Department said.
“There’s no pandemic ‘price match’ feature,” agency spokesman David Morgan said, noting that the department’s priority was getting equipment into the state quickly to protect health care workers.
State Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, voiced concern that the protective equipment was procured without consulting with the Legislature.
“I would suspect that had we had a chance to take a peek at it, we might have been able to find some better purchases at the end of the day,” the Gallup Democrat said.
The Health Department used an emergency procurement declaration for the transaction, clearing the way for it to make purchases without going through the usual budget process. Signed April 28 by the agency’s chief procurement officer, the declaration authorized the agency to spend up to $200 million on goods and services for the coronavirus response.
The agency originally paid for the order with money from the state’s general fund but later used federal funding from the relief bill passed by Congress and returned the state money to the general fund.