State prisons department discloses billions in contracts

first_imgCalifornia’s prisons department is disclosing details of more than $4 billion worth of contracts, nearly four years after it and other agencies were ordered to provide the information to improve spending oversight. The long delay ran afoul of a 2003 state directive stipulating it was “required” and “critical” for details on state contracts to be entered into a huge computerized library kept by the state General Services Department. “It’s something that’s been a work in progress for years,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Seth Unger said. “The goal is to be able to provide greater transparency in our contracts.” The department turned over the massive database early in the week. General Services still was working Friday to post the records to its public Web site. The release of the documents came after an investigation by The Associated Press exposed oversight problems with the database. The AP found the state Justice Department had improperly shielded from the public hundreds of contracts it labeled “confidential.” The agency has since revised its policies for using the label and is working to release more records after lawmakers threatened to withhold money from the agency. The state Transportation Department also used the confidential label on hundreds of contracts, even though General Services never gave it permission do so and was unaware of the practice, the AP found. The database was created in 2003 under former Gov. Gray Davis to bring order to a mishmash of aging bookkeeping systems across state government that made it virtually impossible to keep a tight rein on the expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars for everything from toilet paper to shotguns to software. Contracts in most cases are public records; the database is intended to provide greater visibility over how agencies select and pay contractors. General Services warned agencies in 2003 they could lose the authority to buy goods if they failed to list all contracts and purchases of more than $5,000 in the computerized records, formally known as the State Contract and Procurement Registration System. The DGS never curbed the Corrections Department’s buying power, however, despite the long wait for compliance. “While there have been significant delays and significant technical and operational difficulties … we have nevertheless succeeded in getting their information,” General Services spokesman Bill Branch said. “That, after all, was the object we were striving for.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more