It’s amazing how quickly money can be frittered away when there’s insufficient oversight.
It’s true with our own pocketbooks, and according to an Associated Press story in the Nov. 2 Journal, it’s true for some New Mexico state agencies.
The story cites a Legislative Finance Committee report in which analysts documented concerns over close to $2 billion in government spending – concerns ranging from lazy consumerism to unnecessary purchases of high-end goods to sweetheart deals for former colleagues.
And the culprit comes down to poor policies and lack of tracking. As LFC program evaluation manager Micaela Fischer summed it up, “You can’t become a smarter consumer if you don’t pay attention to how you spend your money.”
Some context from the report: The State Purchasing Division is tasked with making sure vendors are chosen by a competitive process as well as facilitating good bargains between vendors and state agencies. These can apply to any supplies government agencies need – vehicles, technology, office supplies and more.
While the division generally follows a procurement “code,” amendments have been added to it. Price agreements, for example, let state employees prenegotiate prices on goods and services with vendors, which fast-tracks purchases but eliminates comparison shopping.
“In some cases, these amendments made procurements a more streamlined process,” the report says. “In others, they have allowed agencies to make large purchases without requiring they undertake due diligence to ensure they are receiving the best deal.”
In the real world, this translated to agencies buying things like Homeland Security’s two drones and a command center for $466,000 under price agreements without having anyone with expertise determine those were good or necessary buys. On the flip side, agencies that ignored price agreements actually saved money. Game and Fish, for example, saved nearly 11% on 100,000 rounds of ammunition last fiscal year.
The LFC also found agencies that have used the loose rules to award lucrative contracts to former staff and hire high-priced consultants without shopping around.
The report recommends more oversight, including that Purchasing have specialists review all spending. That could require additional staffing or technology – most likely both – but if that oversight maximizes public dollars and gets taxpayers the most bang for their bucks, it is money well spent. Lawmakers and state agencies should take the LFC report’s recommendations to heart. The most basic foundation of good government is fiscal accountability, and taxpayers deserve nothing less.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.