By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
The Office of the New York State Comptroller last week made public the findings of an audit of Rockland County’s Department of Social Services. The review of DSS operations from January 1, 2013 to last August highlighted several areas quality and efficiency, but also recommended substantive changes to improve the department’s procurement of contracted services.
While much of the comptroller’s audit covered the time period before the start of my administration, I have long believed that a tightening of our procurement practices is necessary to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars. (This tightening was actually well-underway before the comptroller’s first visit to DSS last year) As your county executive, I have the fiduciary duty to ensure that we pay the lowest possible price for products and acquire services without favoritism.
In some ways, the comptroller’s audit revealed several procurement-related issues that my executive staff was already working to address. In the first five months of 2014, County Auditor Robert Bergman uncovered several cases in which a nonprofit service provider was selected and funded by the Legislature in the absence of any competitive process. Further digging found that nearly two dozen contract agencies had been funded without proper bidding, oversight and accountability. With a slew of questionable contracts signed, sealed and delivered, it quickly became evident that county procurement practices needed reform.
Throughout our community, agencies like Meals on Wheels, People to People and the Center For Safety and Change enhance our quality of life by offering quality services the county cannot afford to supply. Working with the leadership of several of the county’s top nonprofits, my administration is changing our procurement approach, which will ultimately strengthen our relationships with these much-needed agencies. The age-old practice of “earmarking” by the Legislature is destined to become history.
Categorizing contract agencies by service offered, placing each under departmental oversight and mandating strict compliance to sound procurement practices, we will make certain our county government actually serves its residents. After all, it’s a lot easier for taxpayers to get a good deal when there are several bidders competing for a contract. It’s also in the best interest of taxpayers to make sure all performance and financial targets are fully met. When agencies follow smart procurement practices, it helps ensure that our state government actually serves its residents.
We appreciate the recommendations of the Comptroller, as my administration works to restore “good government” to Rockland County. Consistent with our ongoing efforts to improve accountability, the recent audit of DSS will help us identify additional opportunities to make our evaluation of services provided by contact agencies more efficient and to ensure the proper use of public funds. In the months ahead, I presume the Legislature will fully support our improved method of contract agency funding in 2016 – a proven method that is mindful and respectful of the taxpayers.
As your county executive, I pledge to create a culture of responsible spending in Rockland County. Gone are the days in which some contract agencies are allowed to skirt requirements for fair procurement. All legislators should revisit their decisions to direct taxpayer monies to hometown projects and favored organizations. Citizens must hold government at all levels accountable for following sound procurement practices. After all, it’s your tax dollars we are spending.