SPRINGFIELD (AP) – The Illinois agency that keeps track of all taxpayer property has such a poor listing of it that it includes only one of the state’s nine universities and omits one-quarter of the Prairie State’s 130 parks, according to an audit released Thursday.
Auditor General William Holland credited Gov. Pat Quinn’s Department of Central Management Services for reducing state leasing costs by $55 million a year, but even there, criticized the agency for not regularly checking for more efficient ways of using space and renting property without looking at it.
The audit said state law requires CMS to have a master list of all properties it manages. Of more than three dozen agencies listed on what CMS called a “master list,” there were only 1,789 entries – “a fraction of the total,” Holland said.
A CMS spokesman said the information exists, but what’s lacking is a central depository, which is too costly.
The master list includes no office spaces for the attorney general, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Juvenile Justice and others.
In fact, only two sites were listed for the state’s flagship educational center, the University of Illinois, and none was listed for eight other universities, including behemoths Northern Illinois University or Illinois State. The Department of Natural Resources had 529 sites listed, but 33 parks were left off.
“The record was so deficient that it raised the question of whether the list was, in fact, the master record,” Holland said.
The review noted that CMS had made no significant progress on an automated system to keep track of property since the agency ended a contract with a vendor hired to do it 8 years ago. That was Illinois Property Asset Management, a company at the center of a notorious Holland audit that found significant problems at CMS under ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in April 2005, including taxpayers footing a dinner for IPAM and state employees to celebrate landing the contract.
“CMS has a master record of annual reports from all agencies and universities. What we do not have is a centralized database that compiles the information from all these reports,” CMS spokesman Mike Claffey said. After the IPAM debacle, he said, “it was determined that the cost of attempting another procurement to create such a database would greatly exceed the benefit to taxpayers.”
But Claffey said Quinn’s administration nonetheless undertook a massive review of leased space, and Thursday’s audit determined that CMS had reduced it since 2009 by 26 percent, to 6.9 million square feet. Annual rental costs dropped by $55 million through consolidation, renegotiation with landlords and new bids.
The review credited the oversight of the independent Procurement Policy Board for objecting to leases that seemed inappropriate. A reduced state workforce and more favorable real estate climate have helped, too.
But it found CMS officials do not regularly visit leased space to see how it is used or whether there’s room for more state operations. The audit reported that one CMS official said site visits were formerly done annually but are now done “on a reactionary basis.”
In 17 of 25 lease files reviewed, there was no evidence of anyone checking the availability of state-owned space. In six of 25 leases examined, there was no record of a site visit prior to renting the space.