Florida chief financial officer wants ok on contracts

Nov 22, 2011

The following article was published in The Tampa Tribune on November 21, 2011: 

Fla. Chief Financial Officer Wants OK on Contracts

By Gary Fineout

The top Florida official in charge of the state’s checkbook wants more control over state contracts even though it could set up a clash with Gov. Rick Scott.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Monday called on state legislators to give him more power, including the ability to approve or reject state contracts before they get signed. He also wants to limit what state agencies can purchase without going through competitive bidding.

This potentially puts Atwater on a collision course with Scott, a fellow Republican, since most state agencies report to the governor and not to the chief financial officer. Atwater is responsible for paying the state’s bills and has the power to block payment for questionable or illegal expenses.

Atwater didn’t mention the governor directly, but in a statement outlining his legislative priorities for the coming year he defended the idea of having more control over the billions in contracts approved each year by the state.

“As your elected representatives, you have entrusted us to watch over the money you send to our government,” Atwater said. “Strict contracting standards are simply a reflection of how seriously we take that responsibility.”

Amy Graham, a spokeswoman for Scott, said on Monday that Atwater’s office has not discussed specific proposals with Scott.

The push by Atwater to get more control over state contracts comes just days after both he and Scott stood side-by-side at the Capitol and called on state legislators to do something about auto insurance fraud they say is costing consumers. Florida’s annual legislative session starts in January.

Graham said that the governor’s office looks forward to working with Atwater on “our mutual goals” of reducing regulations, eliminating auto insurance fraud and “keeping the cost of living low for Floridians.”

Earlier this year Scott himself clamped down on state contracts when he suspended all contracts worth more than $1 million until they could first be reviewed by his office. The suspension was lifted in April.

But state legislators have pushed to tighten controls over state contracts in recent years, going so far to pass a bill that would have shifted some control over contracts to the Republican-led Florida Legislature. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the measure in 2009, calling it more bureaucracy that could potentially limit economic growth. Atwater was Senate president at the time the bill was passed by legislators.

Anna Alexopoulos, a spokeswoman for Atwater contended that the state is still moving ahead with contracts where the work required is “nebulous,” state employees are approving payments without proper documentation and there is little penalty for not adequately performing the work outlined in the contract. Alexopoulos cited one contract where a vendor is getting paid $20,000 a month to provide three training classes but the vendor is only actually doing one class a month.

She said that Atwater wants state contracts to have better performance standards and that he wants state employees to get training on contract management.

Find this article here:  http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/F/FL_STATE_CONTRACTS_FLOL-?SITE=FLTAM&SECTION=STATE&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-11-21-19-53-37