Thursday, May 21, 2009

Procurement, ethics, employee reforms sail to Senate

By Bethany Jaeger
The House overwhelmingly approved three measures to shield state contracts from political influence, to shine a light on the secretive process of investigating ethical violations and to “fumigate” the state of political appointees of former Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.

The measures, all sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan, now head to the Senate, where more government reforms are expected to be debated tomorrow.

Madigan focused on procurement, employee ethics and political appointees. They received near-unanimous support. Republican Rep. Bill Black of Danville said, “These bills are some of the most important bills we’ve discussed in a long, long time.”

Procurement, SB 51
The speaker’s proposal would not go as far as preferred by Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois Reform Commission when changing the way the state purchases products and services. But Madigan’s goal mirrors that of the commission’s. “This was designed to shut the door on misuse of procurement and to isolate the procurement process and the procurement people from undue influence, especially from the office of the governor,” Madigan said on the House floor.

Rather than create one “procurement czar” in a new state procurement agency, as the commission wanted, Madigan proposed hiring a series of independent procurement officials in a "six-level system" of oversight:
  • Chief procurement officers would oversee procurement for the Capital Development Board, the Illinois Department of Transportation and higher education. The rest would be placed with the state’s main purchasing arm, Central Management Services.
  • Procurement compliance monitors would oversee the procurement process in real time and be able to recommend changes or expose abuses.
  • Independent internal auditors would be placed in their respective agencies, reversing a Blagojevich decision to consolidate them all into Central Management Services.
  • One executive procurement officer in the governor’s office would advise the governor and the procurement officers. The position would end in January 2011, either when Quinn started his first full term as governor or when a new governor took office.
  • The Procurement Policy Board would be strengthened so it could review contracts or bidder information and make recommendations for the chief procurement officers regarding conflicts of interest.

Each procurement officer, compliance monitor and internal auditor would serve a five-year term, pending Senate confirmation. And they couldn’t be fired without a public hearing that determined cause for removal.

The use of sub-contractors would have to be disclosed, CORRECTION: but a provision that would have strengthened the so-called pay-to-play ban so that businesses holding state contracts of $25,000 (instead of the current $50,000) would be banned from donating to the officeholders' political campaign didn't make it into the final version. The $50,000 threshold remains.

“The bill is laced with transparency requirements,” Madigan said. “Our whole intent was two-fold: open up the process — make it more transparent — and insulate the process from undue influence, especially coming out of the governor’s office.”

Employee ethics, SB 54
Blagojevich enacted a law in 2003 that created inspectors to root out corruption or improper political donations from state contractors. But the process of investigating allegations lacked teeth and was cloaked in secrecy, with no way for the general public or legislators to know whether a corruption allegation was investigated or addressed.

“In the past, a lot of this work has been done in the dark,” Madigan said.

So his measure would allow reports of the inspectors to be public record if they found wrongdoing and either suspended or terminated an employee. Some of the information could be blacked out if it would jeopardize an ongoing investigation. And it would change the law so the inspectors could start an investigation based on anonymous tips.

It also would strengthen the so-called revolving door ban to prevent high-ranking officials from accepting jobs with private companies that received significant state contracts from the agency where the official worked. Agencies would have to list all of the employees who would be affected by the ban.

Stricter lobbying regulations would require people who lobby state boards, commissions or retirement boards to register as lobbyists, and all lobbyists would have to abide by stricter disclosure requirements. They’d also pay a higher fee of $1,000, as opposed to the current $350, which is how the state would pay for two inspectors to oversee lobbying activities. Madigan said he would consider reducing the fees for smaller nonprofit lobbying groups down the road.

Employee “fumigation,” SB 1333
At the request of the governor, Madigan reduced his original attempt to force Quinn to fire up to 3,000 employees or commissioners appointed by Ryan or Blagojevich. His measure now would apply to about 750 agency directors and their assistants, who can be hired or fired based on their political affiliations. He also would give the governor 90 days instead of 60 to review each of those employees before they would automatically be terminated.

Also at Quinn’s request “on a very personal level,” Madigan removed a provision that would have fired one of the governor’s longtime friends, John Filan. But that’s with the understanding the Filan would resign as the executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority July 1. “I took the governor at his word,” Madigan said. Filan was Blagojevich’s first-term budget director and former chief operating officer who played an integral role in several of Blagojevich’s controversial budget proposals, including floating $10 billion in pension obligation bonds and skipping $2.3 billion in state contributions in fiscal years ’06 and ’07.

Even without the provision to fire Filan, the bill drew concerns about the separation of powers because the legislature would fire people appointed by the executive branch. “We are, if not blurring those lines, we may actually be crossing those lines,” Black said.

Rep. Will Davis, a Chicago Democrat who voted present on the measure, said: “If [Quinn] wants to fire employees, he should do that and not come to the General Assembly to ask us to do that for him. … It certainly appears like maybe they’re doing him a favor.”

Madigan said the legislature has changed boards and commissions that were appointed by the executive branch before, including when the legislature twice revamped the Illinois State Board of Education and the Health Facilities Planning Board. Madigan added that Quinn “agreed to the bill.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its about time Filan is fired! The guy serves as a poster child on how to bankrupt a state government. Way to go Speaker Madigan.