TALLAHASSEE — Florida will spend $47 billion this year hiring outsiders to do state work, but the state's chief financial officer warns that hundreds of contractors will not be required to show they provided the services they agreed to and that state documents could be rife with errors.
Those are the conclusions of CFO Jeff Atwater after a sample audit of 24,000 state contracts at 33 different agencies found that 35 percent were flawed.
At stake, he said: "Hundreds of millions of dollars" of the state's $70 billion budget — 67 percent of which is outsourced.
On Wednesday, Atwater unveiled a website (facts.fldfs.com/Search/ContractSearch) with details about state contracts. The goal, he said, is to put heat on the flawed contracting system by turning the public into watchdogs and inviting more competitors to the table. "We have 19 million people … I wouldn't mind if we had 19 million auditors," Atwater said at a news conference in Tallahassee.
The biggest challenge, he said, will be the lobbying corps. For years, companies — big and small, nonprofit and public — hired legions of lobbyists to use political influence and cozy relationships to give them an advantage in the contracting process.
"I know what everybody wants, and they don't want accountability, and they don't want to be measured," Atwater said.
The result, he said, is a patchwork of standards in which some agencies adhere to strict performance measures while others are so loose they barely produce anything more than a work plan and an invoice.
For example, the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times found that the Legislature ordered the Department of Juvenile Justice to refrain from putting a contract up for bid, and the governor's staff intervened in a contract for mapping broadband Internet services in Florida. Senate President Mike Haridopolos also allowed his former chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, to steer two no-bid contracts to friends.
Atwater said the Legislature is required to provide data to the website, just like state agencies.
The online tool, called Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System, or FACTS, was ordered to be developed by the Legislature in 2011 as part of the Department of Financial Services' budget transparency program. Atwater's office spent the past year working with 33 state agencies and training officials to work with the system.
Contracts will be posted on the website within 30 days of being signed. The website, however, will not include details about the circumstances surrounding the contract and whether it was competitively bid.
Atwater said that the website, while a "significant step forward," was far from complete. He tried and failed last session to transfer authority over the state's contracts from the governor's Department of Management Services to his agency — a feud incoming Senate President Don Gaetz called a "turf battle" with the governor's office.
Atwater said he will return to the Legislature this year to ask for additional oversight over the training of agency contract negotiators along with more consistent contracting standards.
He also is urging every agency to follow his example and provide an image of each document, so the public can determine whether the agency's description of the contract is accurate. Atwater has ordered his own agency to provide that information.