Contract oversight? What a concept!

The chair of the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee this week said that New Jersey needs to implement better oversight measures to prevent the wasteful spending of taxpayer money on professional services contracts.

“It’s intolerable to hit taxpayers with the price tag for state contracts that balloon in size while no one is properly trained to oversee their implementation and ensure accountability,” said Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex.

The source of Ms. Buono’s concern this week were apparent memos about implementing oversight from high-ranking state officials in the mid-1990s, which Ms. Buono said were agreed to but never implemented.

The result: longstanding contracts with consultants that balloon in size and suck the lifeblood out of a state that is in a world of financial hurt, with Gov. Jon S. Corzine widely expected to propose massive budget cuts and slash services in his Tuesday budget address.

Ms. Buono’s office, in a release, said the state had spent around $800 million on outside consultants in the two-year period up to August of 2007, mostly without any accounting of what the money was actually being paid for, and whether the services were provided in a proper way.

New Jersey’s municipalities could use similar oversight, with governments in places like Trenton frequently exploiting loopholes in state law to hand out contracts reeking of cronyism and bad politics.

Using an extremely broad interpretation of state statutes regarding extraordinary and unspecifiable contracts, the city recently paid one man over $300,000 with little oversight and no accounting of what he was actually doing with his time.

That’s right, it was Barry Colicelli, he of the city office, car and cell phone, and not of the skills, expertise, or special knowledge to do what the city thought he was doing, which was a situation likely signified by ambiguous invoices and the “business as usual” attitude of the city’s finance officials.

Change the laws Ms. Buono, and not just for the state government.

The residents of New Jersey like their money in their pockets, and not in the pockets of the friends and associates of shady politicians.

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