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Hurried laser purchase queried

USF administrators were in such a hurry to get a research project going last year that they bypassed normal bidding procedures to buy a $53,100 laser. Seventeen months later, the laser was sitting unused in its original box because there was no lab to put it in, a state audit shows.

The state auditor general, whose office routinely checks up on state agencies, wondered why it was such an "emergency" to buy the laser if construction on the special lab hadn't even begun.

Good point, agreed Rickard Fender, USF's vice president for administrative affairs.

Fender on Thursday said the purchase was an isolated mistake stemming from the university's inexperience in building the sort of "clean room" that the laser requires. "We'd never done anything of this type before. Unfortunately, we overestimated how fast we could" finish the lab.

Now the lab is almost finished, and the laser will be used on many future projects.

The laser was bought without competitive bids, although the university did seek three price quotes and took the lowest one, auditors said.

Fender said he did not know what became of the research project for which the laser was originally purchased, except that it was a joint project with several other universities and sponsored by the U.S. Defense Department. USF's assigned task may have been finished elsewhere.

Neither George Newkome, USF's vice president for research, nor Richard Streeter, director of sponsored research, was available for comment Thursday. The research director who signed the bidding waiver in January 1989 is no longer with the university.

Fender said the emergency purchase was only an error of timing, and he noted that auditors found no indication that USF paid anything but the lowest available price for the laser.