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Policy Blues

When a new piece of state or local legislation passes, elected officials are only too happy to send out press releases announcing the grand new advances for which they’ve just voted.

But what happens after the press releases have been put in the shredder, and metaphorical ribbon-cuttings have been forgotten? The truth is that no matter how enthusiastic the opening day fanfare, there’s no guarantee that a new policy will actually be funded.

We’ve been writing about this for years. But we’re bringing it up today thanks to a potent example that just came to our attention in a CT Mirror opinion piece by Stuart Mahler, a board member of the Connecticut State Contracting Standards Board (SCSB).

This somewhat depressing column follows up on the creation of the Board in 2007, which followed the contracting scandals that resulted in the resignation, conviction and imprisonment of former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland. At the time the governor had accepted over $100,000 in free vacations, construction work on his cottage and other favors. He neglected to pay $35,000 in taxes on the gifts.

What better time to institute controls over contracting?

The goals of the legislation were impressive, as outlined in 50 sections of statutory instructions. The legislation required the appointment of a chief procurement officer as well as an executive director. Responsibilities of the board included “but were not limited to, oversight, investigation, auditing, agency procurement certification and procurement and project management training and enforcement of said policies as well as the application of such policies to the screening and evaluation of current and prospective contractors.”

So, what’s the problem?

According to Mahler, the SCSB has never had a fully functioning staff. In fact, he writes “For most of its existence, the board had and still has one full-time employee. The one other employee of the board, the State’s Chief Procurement Officer, left years ago and the board has not been given permission to fill it.”

While Mahler acknowledges that hard work by board members has led to many impressive accomplishments, the board can only go so far depending on its own community spirit and the work of graduate student interns. If Connecticut wants to fulfil the sizeable ambitions of its contracting oversight legislation, those good ideas of 2007 need to be supported with money.

At least the Connecticut Board is accomplishing something. Elsewhere, they exist in title only, and this can have unfortunate side effects. As we wrote for the IBM Center for the Business of Government a couple of years ago: “This doesn’t cost a city anything in terms of cash, but if a citizen discovers the existence of a board on line, and then finds out it doesn’t have active board members or even a telephone, this can only serve to heighten the alarming lack of trust in government.”


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