Last fall the chairman of the Georgia House Appropriations Committee asked a colleague, Rep. Alan Powell, D-Hartwell, to review the state's practice of contracting with vendors and find out how requests for proposals are distributed. That action by Rep. Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, is welcomed and overdue.
A preliminary report to Coleman by Powell indicates 49 of the 75 largest contracts were "outsourced" to other state agencies or non-profit organizations. Just one-third of the biggest contracts went to private companies.
The 183 outside contracts for the Corrections Department appear to be the highest number, the Department of Community Health spent the next largest amount on outside vendors, while the Education Department ranked third.
State auditors, as Coleman had suspected, found inconsistencies in how agencies reported contracts. (Interestingly, one of the seven entities that hasn't supplied information to the auditors is the governor's office - surely an oversight.)
Once all or most of this information is assembled, let's hope the House and Senate leadership agree on contracting reform legislation.
It is difficult to imagine that a majority of legislators don't want oversight over businesses that receive substantial taxpayers' money they appropriate.
Of local interest, the top beneficiary of this outsourcing is none other than the Medical College of Georgia, which received $85.5 million to treat sick or injured prisoners for the Department of Corrections. While Augusta as a community benefits from the arrangement and influx of dollars, the money comes out of Augustans' paychecks in the form of state taxes, and taxpayers deserve to know if their money is being spent prudently.
There's nothing wrong with state agencies contracting for legitimate work that can be performed better or more efficiently by other state entities or private companies, and the MCG contract is as good an example as any of this benefit to the public at large.
But tighter controls - and, in some cases, just plain oversight - is required. As Coleman and other legislators well know, there are ethical loopholes waiting to be closed.