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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    State Contracting Standards Board says status quo funding would 'gut' the board

    Members of the State Contracting Standards Board say the status-quo funding included in the governor's proposed budget would "gut" the watchdog agency.

    Gov. Ned Lamont's budget proposal, released Wednesday, instead calls for allocating $218,770 to the Auditors of Public Accounts, a legislative agency whose mission is to "audit state agencies," to fund three additional auditors.

    But the proposal does not adjust funding for the Contracting Standards Board, leaving just enough money to fund the agency's two existing staff members — an executive director and an intern — and for the 14-member board to operate, according to board Executive Director David L. Guay. The agency has been requesting an additional $467,055 for more staff.

    The Contracting Standards Board's mission is to ensure "that state contracting and procurement requirements are understood and carried out in a manner that is open, cost effective, efficient and consistent with State and Federal statutes, rules and regulation," according to its website. The watchdog agency recently issued a report on the Connecticut Port Authority and has been reviewing the potential disqualification of the Mystic Education Center developer as a state contractor under a lease he formerly had with the state.

    State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said Thursday that she and other members of the southeastern Connecticut delegation have submitted a bill that would move the State Contracting Standards Board to the legislative side of the budget and fully fund it. She said the bill would be taken up by the Appropriations Committee.

    David Bednarz, a Lamont spokesman, said in an emailed statement that, "In order to enhance oversight of state agency contracting, Governor Lamont is including $218,770 for the Auditors of Public Accounts for three additional auditors to review procurement and contracting processes. These positions will improve the State Auditors' ability to review state agency contracting in a non-partisan manner while providing efficiency and cost savings to the state. It also adds to the Contracting Standards Board's powers to refer cases to the auditors."

    But Contracting Standards Board Chairman Lawrence Fox said the intention of the governor's proposal amounts to "a wholesale gutting of the authority of the board."

    The Appropriations Committee last year had approved $624,994 for five new positions for the Contracting Standards Board, according to an email from Office of Policy and Management Undersecretary for Legislative Affairs Jeffrey R. Beckham to Guay. However, the budget implementer bill rescinded $449,124 of that funding for fiscal year 2022 and $454,355 for fiscal year 2023, so the new positions were not funded. Beckham said that left about $175,870 for the board, enough to fund the executive director position and an intern position, which has been the status quo for years.

    The governor's new budget proposal shows $637,029 for the Contracting Standards Board in fiscal year 2023 but notes a zero net adjustment. Guay said that means the proposal will have no adjustments after the implementer bill rescinded funding, so it does not include the extra money for the additional positions.

    OPM could not immediately be reached for clarification.

    Noting that the governor's proposal includes funding for auditors, Fox recommended that funding go to the Contracting Standards Board so it can do the job the way the legislature and the statute itself think it should.

    "We need a chief procurement officer, we need a staff attorney and we need an auditing staff, and that would go a long way to be an effective watchdog," he said.

    Osten said legislators will delve into details of the budget proposal. "Right now we're not convinced that that it is providing the funding they need and fully staffing the contracting board," she said.

    She said Lamont's proposal for additional auditors "doesn't address the issue" of the Contracting Standards Board missing staff members.

    "The Contracting Standards Board continues to get pushed around," Osten said. "It needs to be fully funded and fully staffed."

    She said while auditors may be needed, "that's different than the fact the Contracting Standards Board was designed with a mission and it's not meeting that mission."

    The board was established in 2007 by then Gov. Jodi Rell in the wake of procurement scandals that occurred during the administration of prior Gov. John Rowland. Osten said the lack of funding dates back to the Rell administration.

    Day Staff Writer Greg Smith contributed to this report.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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