PAR Recommends Spending Transparency Reforms
State contracts with private entities are the citizens’ window into how taxpayer dollars for goods and services are spent. PAR’s new report “Strengthening the Standards: A Case Study of Disaster-Related Contracting Practices in Louisiana” offers recommendations to improve spending transparency, minimize conflict of interest and prepare for more accountable government spending the next time disaster strikes.
“One of the major lessons learned in the wake of the hurricanes is that free flow of information is essential. Enabling citizens to track government spending throughout disaster recovery will increase accountability and build essential public trust,” said Jim Brandt, PAR president.
This study examines a set of high-profile, recovery-related contracts for professional, social and consulting services awarded and amended throughout the two and a half years since the storms of 2005. Programs like the Road Home and Louisiana Speaks are shaped by the work outlined in these contracts. In some cases, the contract, itself, has become a part of the public debate, and, in others, the general public likely has little notion of the type of business arrangement that provided the public service or even that the service was provided.
This report finds that in Louisiana there are many hurdles to clear in order for a citizen to track spending for a particular product or service. Louisiana can help improve the negative image that surrounds the state’s political culture by unlocking some of the mystery regarding doing business with the state.
The report also finds that there are some fundamental contracting best practices that were not employed following the storms of 2005. By providing for automatic review of emergency contracts and contingency contracts where possible, the state can ensure that spending accountability and efficiency are maximized.
Some of the agreements under study are contracts between private entities and involve no state spending. However, the services provided were donated by the private sector specifically to assist government with research and inform policymaking. The unique way in which public and private resources were and continue to be deployed offers exceptional insight, which can guide government through future challenges. By standardizing disclosure of these relationships, citizens could be made aware of this unique avenue of private sector influence on policymaking.
This analysis does not provide a performance evaluation of the contracts or attempt to audit the spending. Rather, the focus is on identifying ways to strengthen the state’s contracting process, transparency and management. The report recommends ways to strengthen Louisiana’s overall procurement process, in times of disaster and otherwise, improve public perception, and provide an improved model for catastrophic events still to come.
The report makes the following recommendations:
- Minimize conflict of interest by prohibiting contractors from competing for state contracts for which they were hired to design the scope and nature of services needed.
- Require that copies of all public contracts and information related to their procurement, award and management be made available to the public via a free searchable Internet database.
- Require public agencies that request donation of professional, social or consulting services from private entities to publish online reports outlining the public-private affiliation, the service donated and the use of the requested service for policymaking.
- Require certain minimum standards for all public emergency contracts, such as identification of goals to be achieved initially, identification of tasks required to meet those goals and production of consistent status reports, to ensure goals are being met.
- Require that all public emergency contracts be automatically reviewed within 90 days of inception to further define goals, responsibilities, performance measurements and incentives.
- Require state agencies to conduct an annual review of their emergency procurement practices and determine ways in which they can prepare for disaster spending, such as negotiating contingency contracts and using multi-disciplinary teams to prepare emergency contracts.
Primary author of this report is Ann Heath, PAR research analyst and staff attorney. Funding for this research was provided by the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation. For additional information or to download a copy of the report, write to PAR at P.O. Box 14776, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-4776, call (225) 926-8414, visit PAR’s Web site at www.la-par.org, or call (225) 926-8414. Printed copies of the report are also available upon request.