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What’s the Matter with Texas?

Texas has a reputation as a “business-friendly” state, but when it comes to contracting, is the Lone Star State too friendly with its private-sector vendors? That’s the question now before the state legislators in Austin as yet another no-bid state contract has come under fire for allegations of cronyism and corruption.

This isn’t a new problem. According to the Texas Tribune, recent audits have shown Texas’ contract oversight to be inadequate and put taxpayer funds at risk. Just last week the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management audits showed a lack of due diligence in 46 of 53 contracts tested. There have also been well-publicized problems with large information technology projects with vendors like Accenture, IBM and Xerox.

Even supporters of outsourcing critical government programs in Texas are now demanding better oversight measures.  Former state representative Arlene Wohlgemuth, who is currently the executive director of the conservative think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation, sponsored successful legislation to replace thousands of state workers in health and human services agencies with private contractors.  Now Wohlgemuth is calling for contracting reform.  “In my opinion (contracting oversight) is one of the greatest weaknesses of state government,” she said recently. “We need to do a better job of enforcing the contract once we have agreed upon it and auditing those contracts.”

Governor Greg Abbot has already issued orders to state agencies to follow new contracting rules, a worthwhile attempt to bring more transparency to no-bid contracts. But more can and should be done. In the Public Interest recently released a report containing commonsense measures to improve contracting oversight, including the recommendation that adequate resources (including staff, training, and funding) be provided for every single contract. Legislators in Austin should swiftly implement each component to improve contract oversight.

While it might help Texas’ “business-friendly” image to forgo adequate oversight, ultimately it’s taxpayers and service recipients that feel the pain when our governments fail to oversee contractors providing fundamental services. If the state can reform their broken oversight system, we’ll be glad to point out What’s Right with Texas.