Contracting practices: Gov. Lamont’s ironic proposal [Waterbury Rep-Am]

March 4, 2022

Editorial as it appears in the Waterbury Republican-American


We couldn’t have made it up if we had tried.


Gov. Ned Lamont, with his administration facing a federal investigation into allegations of improper contracting, has proposed essentially muzzling the entity tasked with ensuring Connecticut government’s contracting is on the up-and-up.


Hopefully, criticism from legislators of both parties will prompt Gov. Lamont to change course.


This month, Gov. Lamont proposed revisions to the $23.6 billion fiscal year 2022-23 budget he and the legislature approved last summer. The governor’s plan would “allocate $218,770 to the Auditors of Public Accounts for three additional auditors, instead of the additional $467,055 needed to fully staff the Contracting Standards Board,” The (New London) Day reported Feb. 18. This board was established in 2007, by the legislature and then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell, in response to the 2002-04 contract-steering scandal that led to the resignation and imprisonment of Gov. John G. Rowland. According to The Day, the board needs to fund five positions, in addition to those of its executive director and intern.


Gov. Lamont’s proposal was the focus of a Feb. 17 hearing by the legislature’s Appropriations Committee. Lawrence Fox, the board’s chairman and a Democrat, told committee members, “We monitor. We hold accountable the agencies that do procurement. We need an effective staff to look at what’s going on.”


David Guay, the board’s executive director, took aim at the governor’s contention that the auditors can perform the same function. “The auditors can’t make the executive branch do something. We are an executive-branch agency with powers to make other agencies do something,” he said. Auditors report to the legislature, not the governor.


Indeed, “The auditors have almost no enforcement authority. Their chief power rests only in shining public light on state agencies … The contracting standards board, by comparison, has authority to suspend a procurement process underway if it concludes the department or agency in question isn’t in full compliance with state rules,” according to a Feb. 16 Connecticut Mirror story.


There is no point to having an entity like the board if it is not going to be adequately staffed and funded. Even worse is that Gov. Lamont wants to shift responsibility to the auditors, who largely are powerless to stop misconduct. That is holding the door open for malfeasance. As it is, the Lamont administration’s contracting practices have caught the attention of the FBI and interim U.S. attorney Leonard C. Boyle. The most infamous player is Konstantinos “Kosta” Diamantis, formerly a deputy budget director.


Unfortunate though it is, the board has been underfunded for its decade-and-a-half of existence.


However, news reports indicate Gov. Lamont’s plan has drawn the ire of legislators in both parties.


One notable critic is Sen. Craig A. Miner, R-Litchfield, Senate ranking member of the Appropriations Committee.


We encourage lawmakers to keep pressure on the governor.


The bipartisan opposition sends a powerful message.


For their parts, Gov. Lamont and his now-former budget director, Melissa McCaw, denied that this is an attempt to strip the board of enforcement authority, the Mirror reported in a story the Republican-American carried Feb. 19.


In light of what those in the know have said, that is tough to stomach.