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Standing Guard: How Unaccountable Contracting Fails Governments and Taxpayers

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When governments outsource vital public services, how carefully are contractors being watched? As local and state governments increasingly contract out critical public services that are crucial to the well-being of the community, the need for robust contract oversight is pressing. Yet, recent research and the experiences of cities and states across the county show that too often contract oversight is lax. 

Robust oversight means that the government can hold contractors accountable for their performance, and ensure that the public receives quality services at a reasonable cost. Proper oversight can protect public health and safety. Strong oversight allows governments to catch waste, fraud, and abuse in real time instead of long after the fact, and correct mistakes before they result in serious harm.

Lax oversight has detrimental impacts for the people served by a program or service, and for the public at large. Poor oversight of government contracts can mean:

  • Wasted public tax dollars
  • Fraud and abuse
  • Poor quality of service and underperformance by contractors
  • Risk to vulnerable residents and to public health and safety

Problems with contract oversight are pervasive. These problems occur in cities and states across the country and across all sectors of government, including health and human services, criminal justice, information technology, education, public works, and more. Recent research and numerous examples illustrate why contract oversight often falls short. This report discusses common problems and the real world consequences of lax oversight, and provides policy recommendations to help cities and states improve their oversight of government contracts. The appendix provides additional examples of recent government contract problems not included in the report.