By: Jeff Atwater, Chief Financial Officer
This week is Sunshine Week, which makes it an ideal time to reiterate the importance of open government and why my office is diligently working to improve government transparency and accountability. Since taking office, I have been committed to building upon Florida’s Sunshine Law and seeking new ways to promote openness.
I am proud to be a citizen of a state that has a long history of holding transparency and accountability in the highest regard. Florida’s Public Records Law was created nearly 100 years ago, in 1909. Nearly 60 years later, Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law was created, and it wasn’t long afterward that former Governor Reubin Askew advocated for the Sunshine Amendment, a 1976 ethics law that required elected officials to disclose personal finances. But despite these steps and several others being taken to make Florida more transparent, there was no system in place to track our state’s contracts and grants when I became Chief Financial Officer. There was also no way to account for the number contracts and grants or to know the role they played in the state budget.
I knew that if we were to run a state efficiently and at the lowest costs possible to Florida’s taxpayers, the lack of information and accountability for our contracts was unacceptable. Therefore, to close this loophole in Florida’s transparency, I created the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System (FACTS). As a result of FACTS, we are able to now know exactly how many contracts the state has and their impact on Florida’s budget.
Last year, my office conducted audits of nearly 900 state contracts and grants. Our findings revealed that 55 percent of these contracts and grants had deficiencies. The deficiencies included missing specifics on deliverables, a lack of accountability for missing deliverables or stipulations for deficient work, and requirements for the state to pay contracts in full if the vendor alone concluded that the work was complete. These deficiencies were primarily the result of poorly written contracts as opposed to misbehavior, but no $70 billion enterprise should be exposed to an error rate of that magnitude.
In addition to our review, I also believed it was important for every Floridian to have viewable access to our state’s contracts and grants. FACTS now allows citizens to supervise how the state is handling public expenditures. At any given time, anyone can search for state contracts by state agency, vendor, dollar amount, date and commodity or service provided. Allowing Floridians access to the program provides our citizens with the information necessary to hold their government accountable.
In addition to improving accountability and transparency within the state’s grants and contracts, my office also created an Office of Public Records and upgraded our system to more quickly respond to public records requests. I whole-heartedly believe that by insisting on transparent transactions and accountability for decisions, we will run a more efficient government. You have my promise that I will remain committed to making Florida prosper, and a significant step to making that happen is holding government accountable and making it transparent to the people.