By now everyone understands that Connecticut is facing the worst fiscal crisis it has seen in decades. This isn’t news. It also isn’t news that Governor M. Jodi Rell wants to solve the budget deficit by slashing public services and legislative leaders want to preserve these services by stabilizing the revenue side of the budget.
A recent op-ed by Heath Fahle of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy sides, unsurprisingly, with the “slash and burn” approach of the governor and her backers.
It’s Mr. Fahle’s silver bullet that I’d like to address in particular. He suggests that privatization of these services is the “logical solution” because it can achieve savings for the state. He extols the results of one study showing that privately run prisons reduced costs by ten percent. Did Mr. Fahle forget Connecticut’s experience with shipping inmates to privately-run prisons? We are still paying for that decision in court.
Privatization is not the panacea for budget deficits. As an appointee to the State Contracting Standards Board, I’ve been ready and anxious to get started on the business of the board’s mission, namely ensuring “that state contracting and procurement processes reflect the highest standards of integrity, are clean and consistent and are conducted in the most efficient manner possible.”
But Governor Rell has taken over a year and still has refused to fulfill her statutory obligation to appoint representatives to the Board.
I was appointed to the Board, in part, because of my past experience at the Office of Policy and Management. While at OPM, I handled issues related to governmental contracts. The mission of the Contracting Standards Board is and should be to hone in on waste, fraud and abuse.
The statute was passed, after all, as a result of the Rowland contracting scandals. Our state had seen political bid rigging, public officials fixing contracts for personal gain and the public trust lost. We also saw precious state funds vanish.
Now that Connecticut finds itself in a brutal fiscal crisis, the need for oversight is even more acute. The Board is not only mandated to look for fraud and abuse, it is charged with getting the best bang for our buck, so to speak, when it comes to state contracts.
Without knowing what contracts we have, the value of each and the performance of those providers, how can we know if we are getting our dollars’ worth? How can we evaluate the work being done? Connecticut taxpayers cannot benefit from the safeguards provided by the statute until the governor acts so the Board can get to work.
It is a myth that private companies will perform work better, faster and cheaper than public workers simply because they happen to be “private.” We simply need to remember the I-84 debacle to realize understaffing leads to poorer service, and more costs in the future.
The bad boys aren’t the engineers employed by the Connecticut Department of Transportation. The problem is an atmosphere that compels management to hire politically connected consultants who look the other way when it comes to shoddy work.
Stuart Mahler was appointed to the State Contracting Standards Board in 2009 by House Majority Leader Denise W. Merrill. He is a retired State public service employee and is currently a member of Council 400, CSEA/SEIU Local 2001.