Ethics

Cuomo’s about-face on contracting oversight only goes so far

Gov. Andrew Cuomo omitted several proposed reforms and proposed a vaguely defined database of deals.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (right) listens to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address alongside Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (right) listens to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address alongside Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. Hans Pennink/AP/Shutterstock

In Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s joint State of the State and budget address, one surprise among a slew of ethics and good government reform proposals was contracting reform. However, the governor’s contracting initiatives fall short of what lawmakers and good government groups have called for.

Perhaps the most notable contracting reform Cuomo included in his budget is returning the state comptroller’s ability to review for certain state contracts before they are signed. The governor had previously stripped away that oversight power as part of his first budget in 2011. Specifically, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli will once again have oversight over State University of New York and City University of New York construction and construction-related contracts over $250,000, as well as expanding that to include SUNY research foundation contracts over $1 million. Additionally, DiNapoli’s office will be able to resume pre-auditing of Office of General Services centralized contracts, which the governor revoked in 2012.

Calls for the return of these powers intensified following the Buffalo Billion bid-rigging scandal in 2016, which involved economic development contracts awarded by SUNY Polytechnic Institute to build tech hubs in Western New York. In response, the comptroller’s office drafted legislation called the Procurement Integrity Act that would reinstate those powers – and it passed the state Senate in 2018, but failed to make it out of committee in the Assembly. Some critics claimed that Cuomo, who opposed the legislation, put pressure on Democrats in the Assembly not to take action.

However, the oversight powers included in Cuomo’s budget only represent two of six sections of the comptroller’s stalled Procurement Integrity Act. The other four measure that were not mentioned by the governor include prohibiting the awarding of contracts through state affiliated nonprofits like Fort Schuyler Management Corp., which was at the center of the Buffalo Billion scandal; increasing procurement transparency for both vendors and the public; stronger ethic requirements for procurement officials; and standardizing the contracting process for state authorities.

John Kaehny, who heads the good government group Reinvent Albany, said that while the governor’s new budget proposal is a good first step, the four measures that were dropped are critical. “It makes sense as a whole, it’s kind of an integrated package,” Kaehny said. “So picking two of the things to do, and then not doing the rest, it’s not the best solution.” The governor’s office did not respond to questions about whether the governor would support other pieces of the Procurement Integrity Act.

DiNapoli’s legislation has not yet been re-introduced in the state Legislature and its future is not entirely clear, as his office is currently reviewing its own proposal to determine next steps. However, the comptroller’s office applauded Tuesday’s announcement, which constitutes a significant shift for the governor, who as recently as December defended stripping the state comptroller’s powers. “This proposal is a positive step forward,” DiNapoli spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman said in a statement. “Improvements to the procurement process will assure that independent checks and balances are in place to prevent abuse.”

The reason for the governor’s change of heart? According to Cuomo spokeswoman Caitlin Girouard, it’s because the new agreement shortens amount of time provided to review contracts. The comptroller’s legislation proposed 90 days, the amount of time afforded to the comptroller generally, while Cuomo’s proposal restricts it to 30 days. The comptroller’s office said in that 2018, contract reviews on average took only six days, despite having a 90-day window.

Cuomo also said during his address on Tuesday that the state Inspector General would for the first time inspect any state comptroller contracts exceeding $250,000 “to audit for fraud and hiring practices.”

Kaehny suggested Cuomo finally bowed to political pressure following the recent convictions of former aides – including his former right-hand man, Joe Percoco – for their central roles in the Buffalo Billion scandal.

Restoring the comptroller’s powers was not the only unexpected contracting reform Cuomo included in his executive budget proposal. He also said that he would direct Empire State Development, New York’s economic development arm, to create a searchable database of economic development projects – an idea that good governments had coalesced around in the wake of the misspent upstate economic development funds.

“We were happy to see the governor include the database of deals in his economic development proposal, so while we don’t think a lot of this economic development spending is a good return on investment, we’re hopeful that we will get a good accounting on how this money is being spent,” said Ron Deutsch, executive director of the budget watchdog group Fiscal Policy Institute.

Legislation that would have created such a database passed the state Senate last year, but stalled in the Assembly. “The Assembly’s position was, ‘We will not negotiate without the governor,’ and the governor did not want to negotiate,” said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, who sponsors the Assembly’s version of that bill. He added that the best way to create a database is through law, rather than a vague agency directive.

Cuomo not draft separate legislation mandating the creation of the database with clear guidelines and rules, as the Legislature's bills do. Instead, the only mention of the database exists as about eight lines in an appropriation bill that gives the state Department of Economic Development $500,000 to be used for “creating an online database for all economic development projects” while offering no other details.

Cuomo’s spokeswoman Girouard called previous legislative proposals “overbroad and unwieldy.” But Kaehny said without the details and guidance enumerated in those bills, there would be no standard by which the database must operate, potentially compromising the public access to the information. “There’s no redress for the public at all if ESD lags and drags its feet on it, or does a really crummy job, and they just call it a day,” Kaehny said. He added that the proposed legislation also crucially provides a uniform definition of a job, which does not exist and varies between different projects, making it difficult compare them.

Cuomo’s proposals are only a very small portion of contracting reforms that have been proposed or recommended by good government groups. The Procurement Integrity Act and database of deal legislation were part of an 11-bill package that passed the state Senate last year. Other bills involved the reducing the appearance of pay-to-play, requiring financial disclosures from Regional Economic Development Council members and creating an independent budget office, similar to what exists in New York City.

However, contracting reform is not one of the state Legislature’s stated priorities for the new session, with recent conversations about ethics centering on closing the LLC loophole and revamping the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. Now that Cuomo has staked out his position, it remains unclear what further actions the Legislature intends to take.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.