Posts Tagged ‘contracts’

State Employee Contracting Controversy Addressed With Administrative Changes

By Sean Whaley | 3:37 pm October 13th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Ten months after a legislative audit first raised serious questions about current and former state employees working as contractors for state agencies, the Board of Examiners earlier this week approved administrative changes to prevent future abuses.

The changes approved Tuesday bring closure to the issue of “double dipping”, but not before it spawned legislation and a serious examination of the state employee contracting process.

The audit, released in December 2010, identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day and another where a current state employee earned $62,590 as a contractor in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 while earning a state salary as well.

The audit identified 250 current and former employees providing services to the state. These employees were paid a total of $11.6 million during fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the years covered by the review.

The Board of Examiners is composed of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller.

In addition to the administrative changes, Masto’s office was asked by the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee to review the information for potential criminal violations.

Jennifer Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said today the requested review was completed on June 10 but no action was taken against any current or former employees referenced in the audit.

“The case was declined due to insufficient evidence primarily related to the fact, as pointed out in the legislative audit, that no positive controls were in effect to document or record the time state contractors were actually engaged in their state duties,” she said.

The new rules added to the State Administrative Manual implement the changes mandated by Assembly Bill 240, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

The new rules prohibit a current state employee from being hired under contract by a state agency unless approved by the Board of Examiners. The same approval is required of a former state employee who has not been out of state employment for at least two years.

Such contracts can only be approved if certain circumstances are found to exist, including situations where a short-term or unusual economic circumstance exists for an agency requiring such employment.

Smith said she is pleased with the voted by the board.

“I think we’ll see a lot better accountability and reporting on the use of consultants because of this,” she said. “I’m glad. It may be the type of thing that we need to keep sort of tweaking each session until we have it where we need it to be, but so far, so good.”

“I think we demonstrated it was the right thing to do,” Smith said.

State Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who serves as chairwoman of the Audit Subcommittee, said she was pleased that the Sandoval administration took the audit recommendations seriously. They are overdue, she said.

“There were a few instances that either were very sloppy record keeping or might have been more suitable for prosecution, so I hope somebody is following up on those,” Leslie said.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

“If citizens are going to have confidence in government, they need to be assured that everyone is playing by the same rules,” she said. “The audit raised a lot of red flags about whether there were state employees who were getting sweetheart contracts.”

The administrative changes approved Tuesday will go a long way to correcting any such abuses, Leslie said.

The administrative changes come as yet another state employee contracting controversy involving a new member of Sandoval’s cabinet was recently reported in the Las Vegas Sun. The newspaper reported Sept. 29 that Frank Woodbeck, the newly appointed director of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, held down two state jobs last fiscal year, earning almost as much as the governor.

Woodbeck told the newspaper he worked 60- to 70-hour weeks to fulfill the demands of the two jobs.

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Audio clips:

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith says the law may need tweaking, but she is pleased with the changes:

101311Smith :10 far, so good.”

State Sen. Sheila Leslie says she is pleased the Sandoval administration took the audit recommendations seriously:

101311Leslie1 :20 the same rules.”

Leslie says the audit raised red flags about whether there were state employees getting sweetheart contracts:

101311Leslie2 :26 the Audit Subcommittee.”

Leslie says there were a few instances that may have risen to the level of prosecution:

101311Leslie3 :11 up on those.”

State Transportation Board Votes For More Oversight And Transparency Of Agency

By Sean Whaley | 4:54 pm July 11th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Members of the state Transportation Board, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, voted today to extend their oversight of the activities of the Department of Transportation, a move that will require more frequent meetings and more timely review of contracts.

Gov. Brian Sandoval today supported more Transportation Board oversight of the Transportation Department. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

The seven-member board, which also includes Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Controller Kim Wallin and three public members, now meets only quarterly and does not exercise authority over any contracts or agreements for services entered into by the agency.

Instead, department Director Susan Martinovich has been approving the items and reporting the actions to the board for information purposes only.

But Sandoval said today he believes more oversight is needed from the board to ensure the work of the agency is transparent to the public. While no one wants more meetings, Sandoval said the change is needed to ensure timely review by the board of contracts and agreements.

The five members of the board present for today’s meeting voted for the change, which will take effect in October.

From now on, all agreements over $300,000 for non-construction matters such as hiring consultants, entering into leases and selecting service providers, will come to the board for approval. All construction contracts over $5 million, which will represent about 80 percent of all contracts, will come to the board as well.

Board member Frank Martin said he has been concerned for the two years he has served on the board that there was not enough oversight on such matters, and he supported the change.

Sandoval said the change was necessary.

“I was concerned to see that there were a large volume, if not all contracts, that were basically provided to this board on an informational basis only,” he said. “And now this board will be considering the supermajority of contracts.

“The public will have the ability to review these contracts as well and have input,” Sandoval said.

As part of the new rules, the board then voted to approve 116 agreements entered into by the department with various firms and individuals between March 1 and May 31. In the future, the agreements will be approved on a timelier basis.

Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

The Department of Transportation is also providing access to the board meetings now via the internet.

“So it’s a new day,” Sandoval said. “And I’m very, very pleased and very optimistic, to use that word again, about the ability of the public to have access to how government works.”

Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says most contracts will now be reviewed and approved by the Transportation Board:

071111Sandoval1 :18 supermajority of contracts.”

Sandoval says the public will have the chance to review the contracts as well:

071111Sandoval2 :13 on agenda items.”

Sandoval says it is a new day for transparency at NDOT:

071111Sandoval3 :16 how government works.”

 

Secretary Of State Wants Private Employers That Win State Contracts To Check Status Of Employees

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 3:12 pm December 14th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Secretary of State Ross Miller today asked the state Board of Examiners to adopt a new rule requiring private employers who are awarded state contracts to use the federal E-Verify® program to ensure that only eligible workers are hired at their companies.

Miller asked that the board take up the issue at its next meeting in January.

Miller is also urging all employers in the state to voluntarily use E-Verify®, an electronic program that verifies the eligibility of their employees once they’re hired.

The program, authorized by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, compares information from a new hire’s Form I-9 to other federal records to determine if the employee is eligible to work in the United States. Federal officials say the system is fast and accurate, matching data to millions of records kept by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and providing results within seconds.

“This is a quick and easy way for employers to gain some peace of mind, knowing that their new hires are in fact eligible to work in this country,” Miller said. “Not only is it the law, and therefore good business, but with so many Nevadans out of work, we must also make sure that the available jobs we do have are filled by qualified, eligible workers.”

E-Verify® is administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, USCIS, and the SSA. About 1,400 Nevada employers are already signed up to use the system, which provides 24-hour secure access, instant results, interactive training to get set up, and full customer service. Nearly a quarter million employers are signed up nationwide, ranging from small mom-and-pop stores to multinational corporations.

Nevada Transparency Website Still Missing Contract Information, Searchable Functions

By Sean Whaley | 9:42 am July 15th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s transparency website, where taxpayers can go to examine details of spending by state agencies, still does not include a critical component that would make the information more useful.

Budget limitations have put a plan to put contract information on the site in a searchable format on hold, said state Budget Director Andrew Clinger.

In the meantime, contracts approved by the Board of Examiners at each meeting are being posted on the Department of Administration’s website, he said. Because the information is in a PDF format however, it is not searchable, Clinger said.

But the information, which now includes descriptions of the contracts, the source of funding for the contract, and whether it is a sole source contract, is available for review, he said.

“Without additional funding at this point I’m not sure when we will be able to have the contracts posted in a fashion that is searchable and those types of things that make it even more transparent,” Clinger said. “It is still on our list of priorities. It just depends on the funding in the next session.”

The contracts approved by the Board of Examiners are also posted by the Nevada Policy Research Institute at its TransparentNevada website. The contracts are searchable by contractor, state agency or description going back to January of this year.

Gibbons issued a proclamation in March of 2008 requiring the creation of a transparency website “as soon as practicable.”

Called the Nevada Open Government Initiative, the proclamation specified the need for an “easily searchable database of financial transactions related to government budgets and expenditures . . .”

The site is up and operating and includes a searchable database where taxpayers can delve into detail showing actual payments to vendors.  Searches can be performed by vendor name or by agency.

It has been criticized in the past by some for not being complete.

In a study grading the states on their transparency efforts on government spending released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in April, Nevada received a C and is listed as one of 25 “emerging states” with transparency websites that provide less comprehensive information.

Seven states: Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, Missouri and Pennsylvania, received As and Bs.

But Nevada was not far behind, earning a 78 score out of 100 and coming in at 10th in the rankings.

Nevada is identified in the report as being one of 25 states with “checkbook-level transparency allowing viewing of individual government transactions, akin to viewing the government’s checkbook.”

Two areas where Nevada failed to score well were related to contracts. Nevada received five of 10 points for the posting of contract information, and zero of five points for the posting of past contracts. Nevada’s site was penalized because the actual contracts cannot be viewed.

Contract information is a failing for most state websites, according to the study.

“Most transparency websites do not provide enough detailed information on government contracts. Even some of the leading websites provide only a short description (two to three words) of the purpose of the contracts.”

Nevada’s contract information is inconsistent, with some descriptions lengthier than a few words and others briefer. But the information has not yet been posted or linked to the governor’s transparency website. Instead it is found on the Department of Administration’s website.

The difficulty in finding information was another failing of many sites according to the study.

“Transparency websites should be one-click searchable,” the study said. “Residents should be able to search data with a single query or browse common-sense categories. Websites should also let residents sort data on government spending by recipient, amount, legislative district, granting agency, purpose, or keyword.”

“The good news is that state governments have become far more transparent about where the money goes,” said Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst for tax and budget policy at U.S. PIRG and co-author of the report. “But even the leading states have a lot of room for improvement.”

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audio clips:

Nevada Budget Director Andrew Clinger says some contract information is now available:

071410Clinger1 :26 on our website.”

Clinger says the Legislature will have to provide funding for a searchable contracts database:

071410Clinger2 :21 data they want.”