When Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza champions new legislation or implements a new program, we usually find ourselves thinking: How is this common-sense idea not already in place?
It was that way with her quest to end “offshoring,” the practice governors of both political parties used to make themselves look fiscally responsible by paying some employees in their office from the budgets of other agencies. Or her Debt Transparency Act, which requires state agencies to report on a monthly basis the total amount of unpaid bills they’re holding and estimate how much interest is owed on those bills.
Those are the definition of no-brainer, good government practices. Mendoza continues that track record of starting pragmatic programs with her announcement this week on a new batch of state contract and spending reforms. These accountability measures are clearly needed after the auditor general found that the implementation of an online state employee health insurance program was so botched it cost taxpayers $10 million more annually than it was supposed to.
The audit on the state’s contract with Morneau Shepell for a custom-benefit portal that was supposed to save the state $500 million annually depressingly found it was so sloppily executed that the program not only costs taxpayers more, but it didn’t deliver the services it promised.
It found the program could have been done in-house, but instead the administration of former Gov. Bruce Rauner rushed through awarding a $94 million contract that bypassed required ethical disclosures by state officials. It also found that the Department of Central Management Services, which issued the contract, took no action against the company despite having 24 chances to dock them for missing performance goals.
The portal was supposed to be a one-stop human resources shop for 450,000 state employees and retirees. Lawmakers ordered the audit in 2017 after The Associated Press reported, among other things, that users reported numerous issues, including payroll errors, wrongful termination of health insurance for new retirees and unexplained changes in life insurance policies.
There are many reasons why Illinois’ finances are terrible, but bad deals like this show just how poorly the state often manages taxpayer money. It’s unlikely this is the only program that isn’t the best use of public dollars.
The audit’s findings prompted Mendoza to suspend $5.7 million in payments to the company. But she also decided to start a new requirement that state agencies complete annual public reports on the progress of their information technology deals exceeding $5 million.
Her “IT Milestone Report” also means agencies will have to confirm the proper paperwork has been completed that discloses potential conflicts of interest, and that an agency must explain any contract that doesn’t include a provision for ensuring minority- and women-owned business participation in the work.
Mendoza has been a consistent advocate for common-sense measures that are practical and serve as a watchdog for taxpayers. Other elected officials would be wise to follow her lead.