Audit: Idaho improving contract oversight

Associated PressJuly 14, 2014 

— Idaho has improved how high-priced contracts are approved and monitored ever since criticism erupted over how officials handled multimillion dollar contracts, according to a new state audit report released Monday.

Officials with Idaho's Office of Performance Evaluation told a legislative committee Monday that the state is in the process of adopting most of the contract management recommendations suggested in a previous audit released almost a year ago.

Officials say that while purchasing rules have improved, many contracts are still exempt from the division's new standards, including those issued by the Legislature, the judiciary and the offices of statewide elected officials.

The report comes after lawmakers were told during this past legislative session of the costly problems surrounding the multimillion dollar contract the state signed with Education Networks of America. State education officials surprised legislators when they announced that the public schools broadband network contract would cost taxpayers millions more than originally anticipated.

The reason being is that the federal government has yet to pay its share of the cost —which was supposed to cover three-fourths of implementing the broadband network— because it's withholding its payments until a dispute over another state contract is resolved.

The debacle has made lawmakers more sensitive to how contracts are monitored, said state Rep. Maxine Bell of Jerome, co-chair of the state's budget committee and member of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee.

"It brought it to the light," Bell said. "That's a good thing."

State lawmakers have passed four pieces of legislation requesting better oversight, resulting in the state's Division of Purchasing to develop monitoring standards for contracts worth $5 million or more, said Amanda Bartlett, an evaluator with OPE.

That new standard applies to 45 out of the state's nearly 440 state-funded service contracts but they total $2.6 billion. The remaining contracts not under the intensified scrutiny total $163.6 million.

"They are focusing their efforts on large numbers while limiting the scope ... to a manageable number of contracts," Bartlett said

Division officials have said that they do not have enough resources currently to review and monitor every contract in Idaho at their present staffing level, Bartlett added. However, the division is expected to make a budget request next year for more staff to help train and oversee state commitments.

"If we have shorted them resources then that's something we'll take a look at next year," Bell said.

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