New state website shines light on billions in contracts

 

The state’s top fiscal officer warns that flaws and errors in the state contracting process could be costing millions and he hopes a new web site will force changes

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Florida will spend $47 billion this year hiring outsiders to do state work, but the state’s chief financial officer warns that hundreds of contractors will not be required to show they provided the services they agreed to and that state documents could be rife with errors.

Those are the conclusions of CFO Jeff Atwater after a sample audit of 24,000 state contracts at 33 different agencies found that 35 percent were flawed.

At stake, he said: “Hundreds of millions of dollars” of the state’s $70 billion budget — 67 percent of which is outsourced.

On Wednesday, Atwater unveiled a new website with details about state contracts. The goal, he said, is to put the heat on the flawed contracting system by turning the public into watchdogs and inviting more competitors to the table.

“We have 19 million people ... I wouldn’t mind if we had 19 million auditors,” Atwater said at a news conference in Tallahassee.

The biggest challenge, he said, will be the lobbying corps. For years, companies — big and small, nonprofit and public — hired legions of lobbyists to use political influence and cozy relationships to give them an advantage in the contracting process.

“I know what everybody wants, and they don’t want accountability, and they don’t want to be measured,’’ Atwater said.

The result, he said, is a patchwork of standards in which some agencies adhere to strict performance measures while others are so loose they barely produce anything more than a work plan and an invoice.

For example, the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times found that the Legislature ordered the Department of Juvenile Justice to refrain from putting a contract up for bid, and the governor’s staff intervened in a contract for mapping broadband Internet services in Florida. Senate President Mike Haridopolos also allowed his former chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, to steer two no-bid contracts to friends.

Atwater said the Legislature is required to provide data to the website, just like state agencies.

The online tool, called Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System or FACTS, was ordered to be developed by the Legislature in 2011 as part of the Department of Financial Services budget transparency program. Atwater’s office spent the last year working with 33 state agencies and training officials to work with the system.

Contracts will be posted on the website within 30 days of being signed. The website, however, will not include details about the circumstances surrounding the contract and whether it was competitively bid.

Atwater said that the website, while a “significant step forward,” was far from complete. He tried and failed last session to transfer authority over the state’s contracts from the governor’s Department of Management Services to his agency — a feud incoming Senate President Don Gaetz called a “turf battle” with the governor’s office.

Atwater said he will return to the Legislature this year to ask for additional oversight over the training of agency contract negotiators along with more consistent contracting standards.

He also is urging every agency to follow his example and provide an image of each document, so the public can determine whether the agency’s description of the contract is accurate. Atwater has ordered his own agency to provide that information.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas

Read more Political Currents stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category