Senator pushes accountability bill to put public’s interest first
By SHERRY HALBROOK
State Sen. Nicholas Spano said he was surprised, “but pleased” when he realized his bill, S.3923, is the subject of the
TV ads he has been seeing.
Those ads are part of PEF’s $1.3 million Go Public campaign
to build support for four “accountability” bills pending in the state Legislature. Spano’s bill is at the top of that list.
“Our professional state employees are required to be accountable for the work they do,” Spano said, “and the state should maintain those same accountability standards when it contracts out work.”
Spano’s bill sets standards for when state agencies could contract out work, including a fair and careful analysis to see whether it would be more economical to have state employees or contractors do the job. The legislation would not apply to contracts for such things as materials, equipment, real estate, utilities or insurance.
“The agencies would have to justify it in terms of savings, quality standards and the qualifications of the people who would do the work,” Spano said.
What it does
Specifically, the bill would amend the state Finance Law to allow state agencies to contract for personal services only in one or more of the following situations:
• It can be clearly shown that the state would save money by using an outside contractor, instead of state employees for the job. All quality standards and costs for both scenarios must be fully considered, including employees’ qualifications and benefits, work space, utilities, equipment, monitoring and inspections. Furthermore, any cost saving from contracting out must not be outweighed by “the public’s interest in having a particular function performed directly by state government;”
• The work is so specialized or technical state employees are not prepared to do it;
• It’s a service/maintenance contract connected to the purchase or lease of equipment or real estate;
• The goal or purpose of the work requires someone from outside state service with an independent perspective;
• The job requires services, materials, equipment or facilities at a location where the state could not feasibly provide them itself;
• The work involves training services for which qualified state employees “are not and cannot be made available;”
• The need is too urgent, temporary or occasional to be efficiently met in-house; or
• The contractor “demonstrates a quantifiable improvement in services that cannot be reasonably duplicated within existing state resources.”
The legislation would also require state agencies to retain all of the data including written findings necessary to apply these standards.
In the public interest
Spano stressed that his goal in sponsoring this legislation goes beyond protecting the public purse to protecting the public interest.
“This is not just about dollars and cents. It is about our public policy role of serving the people and caring for people across the state. We must ensure the public interest is really protected,” he said.
Spano, a Yonkers Republican who was first elected to the Senate in 1986, is now chair of the Senate Committee on Investigations, Taxation and Government Operations. But this accountability legislation, he said, grew out of the many years he previously spent as chair of another committee.
“As chair of the Senate Mental Health Committee, I learned very rapidly about the work that the state’s professional employees do at those agencies (the state Office of Mental Health and the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities).”
Coming to recognize their level of professionalism, experience, dedication and caring “had the most profound effect on me,” Spano said.
He also came to realize the unique role government has in meeting the needs of all its citizens, he said. “We cannot lower our standards if we contract work out. We have to ensure the public interest is really protected.”
Go Public ads working
Spano said he applauds PEF’s campaign to bring these issues of accountability in provision of public services to the attention of the public and its elected representatives.
“I congratulate PEF for making this effort. PEF’s campaign has been very helpful in taking an issue that people don’t usually think much about and putting it on the front burner.
“And it’s good that PEF is not saying there should be no privatization or contracting out, but that it has to be held accountable to the same high standards. There should be a level playing field (for comparing the relative advantages of doing work in-house or through contractors) — not just pushing public employees aside for the sake of privatization.”
Sticking to his guns
Currently, Spano’s bill is in the Finance Committee in the Senate. The bill’s Assembly counterpart — A.01259, sponsored by Susan John — has been reported out of the Governmental Operations Committee in that house and referred to Ways and Means.
Spano said he is cautiously optimistic that it will be passed by both houses and signed by the governor this year. But if that doesn’t happen, he is prepared to go on fighting for as long as it takes.
“I am committed to this issue, and I’ll stay with it until it’s law.”
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