By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf
Greater transparency in Maryland government contracting is the goal of legislation that would provide more information about each contract on a state website.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee is considering a bill that would pour $1.4 million into the growth of the website that allows the public to view payments made to state contractors.
The Maryland Funding Accountability and Transparency website (spending.dbm.maryland.gov) under the Maryland Department of Budget and Management is a listing of all payments greater than $25,000 that state agencies have made to contractors from the years 2008-13. The public can see the amount the agency paid, the year, and the zip code where the vendor is based.
Sen. Richard Madaleno of Montgomery County is championing the bill along with 10 other Democrats and one Republican. SB 484, the Maryland Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, would add more key facts to the website for the benefit of Marylanders, Madaleno said. Among those are the owner of each business, the budget code for the payment, and the method of procurement for each contractor.
“It’s interesting that the state puts out hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts every year,” Madaleno said during the hearing. “It’s useful for us, [and] for the public, to know who that is going to, who is benefiting from those numbers.”
State agencies opposed to cost
The high cost of the bill stems from the fact that the website would need to be reconstructed, according to the Department of Information Technology (DoIT) and the Maryland Department of Transportation. Both agencies oppose the bill, and would share the expense of supporting the website in fiscal 2015.
The website draws from a single database, according to Becky Burner, who represented DoIT during the Wednesday’s hearing. Some information the bill requests the agencies do not have access to, she said, and the other agencies’ accounting systems do not marry well with each other without reconfiguring the systems to allow them to interface, a cost of more than a $1 million.
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden of Baltimore City, vice chair of Budget and Taxation and a supporter of the bill, interrupted Burner in the middle of her testimony to ask whether the systems are periodically updated. Burner confirmed that they are.
“Just moving forward in the procurement process, if we’re upgrading or getting a new system, cannot we just implement some of these things so they can talk to one another?,” McFadden asked.
“[This bill] puts us in the right direction,” McFadden said after the hearing. “For us to be transparent, we should refurbish the systems to put in the ability to interact.”
Under SB 484, the website would also include start and end date of each contract, including any modifications, the number and title of full-time employees who worked under the contract, the average compensation for each type of employee, and audit reports related to the contract. Annual maintenance, costing $200,000, would also be required.
The database initially went online to the tune of $200,000 in January 2009 following the confirmation of The Maryland Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2008.
“We’re not crazy about contracting out and outsourcing,” Sue Esty, legislative director of Maryland’s chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which supports the bill. “That’s one of the reasons that we’re motivated but frankly so should [the legislature] be interested in how these dollars are being spent.”