Do tax­pay­ers a fa­vor, keep an eye on billing by state con­trac­tors

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - Pamela J. Althoff, for­mer Illi­nois state sen­a­tor

In Fe­bru­ary of this year I filed SB 2828, which re­quires trans­par­ent ver­i­fi­ca­tion of bill­able ac­tiv­ity for all state pro­fes­sional and tech­ni­cal ser­vice con­tracts in ex­cess of $100,000. Con­trac­tors would be re­quired to use soft­ware to ver­ify that hours billed for com­puter-based work un­der the state con­tract are le­git­i­mate.

At a time when our state strug­gles with large pen­sion li­a­bil­ity debt, credit down­grades, pas­sage of a truly bal­anced bud­get and sev­eral doc­u­mented cases of over-billing, this leg­is­la­tion is a “no-brainer” on be­half of Illi­nois tax­pay­ers. Gov­ern­ment needs proof pos­i­tive that we are spend­ing our hard-earned tax­payer dol­lars re­spon­si­bly and ap­pro­pri­ately.

Tes­ti­mony pro­vided by the Gover­nor’s Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get dur­ing the Se­nate Ex­ec­u­tive Hear­ing in May re­ported sev­eral cases of over-billing. Three cases alone to­taled more than $21 mil­lion in over-billing to state and lo­cal gov­ern­ment. In ad­di­tion, a state au­di­tor’s re­port in Septem­ber 2014 found that 13 at­tor­neys had over-billed the Illi­nois pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice more than $300,000 be­tween 2009 and 2013. Sur­pris­ingly, there were 50 sep­a­rate times where at­tor­neys claimed to have worked more than 24 hours in a sin­gle day!

By re­quir­ing ven­dors with more than $100,000 in state con­tracts to use soft­ware that pe­ri­od­i­cally takes screen­shots of work per­formed, we can sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease Illi­nois’ ca­pac­ity to man­age com­plex projects while pro­tect­ing the state from padded in­voices and time-sheet fraud. Soft­ware like Trans­par­en­tBusi­ness, a prod­uct avail­able through lead­ing pay­roll and hu­man ser­vices provider ADP, is al­ready used fre­quently in the pri­vate sec­tor. Three states have passed leg­is­la­tion ex­plor­ing the use of this soft­ware, and leg­is­la­tion has been in­tro­duced in 11 states to man­date ver­i­fi­ca­tion. This is be­com­ing a na­tional trend, and next year it is ex­pected that this leg­is­la­tion will be con­sid­ered by at least 35 states.

It is not a new or novel con­cept to en­sure fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity and trans­parency. SB2828 would sim­ply re­quire Illi­nois to take ad­van­tage of these best prac­tices in man­ag­ing our state con­tracts and con­trac­tors. Equally im­por­tant, the cost of the soft­ware would be paid for by the con­trac­tor, so there is no ad­di­tional ex­pense to the state.

As I leave the Se­nate this year, it is my fer­vent hope that one of my Se­nate col­leagues will choose to con­tinue to ad­vo­cate for this re­spon­si­ble and rea­son­able mea­sure when the Illi­nois Gen­eral Assem­bly con­venes in Jan­uary 2019. It is com­mon sense, good pub­lic pol­icy and will save tax­pay­ers mil­lions of dol­lars with no risk to the state. Any tak­ers?

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