By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: Ten months after a legislative audit first raised serious questions about current and former state employees working as contractors for state agencies, the Board of Examiners earlier this week approved administrative changes to prevent future abuses.
The changes approved Tuesday bring closure to the issue of “double dipping”, but not before it spawned legislation and a serious examination of the state employee contracting process.
The audit, released in December 2010, identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day and another where a current state employee earned $62,590 as a contractor in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 while earning a state salary as well.
The audit identified 250 current and former employees providing services to the state. These employees were paid a total of $11.6 million during fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the years covered by the review.
The Board of Examiners is composed of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller.
In addition to the administrative changes, Masto’s office was asked by the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee to review the information for potential criminal violations.
Jennifer Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said today the requested review was completed on June 10 but no action was taken against any current or former employees referenced in the audit.
“The case was declined due to insufficient evidence primarily related to the fact, as pointed out in the legislative audit, that no positive controls were in effect to document or record the time state contractors were actually engaged in their state duties,” she said.
The new rules added to the State Administrative Manual implement the changes mandated by Assembly Bill 240, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.
The new rules prohibit a current state employee from being hired under contract by a state agency unless approved by the Board of Examiners. The same approval is required of a former state employee who has not been out of state employment for at least two years.
Such contracts can only be approved if certain circumstances are found to exist, including situations where a short-term or unusual economic circumstance exists for an agency requiring such employment.
Smith said she is pleased with the voted by the board.
“I think we’ll see a lot better accountability and reporting on the use of consultants because of this,” she said. “I’m glad. It may be the type of thing that we need to keep sort of tweaking each session until we have it where we need it to be, but so far, so good.”
“I think we demonstrated it was the right thing to do,” Smith said.
State Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who serves as chairwoman of the Audit Subcommittee, said she was pleased that the Sandoval administration took the audit recommendations seriously. They are overdue, she said.
“There were a few instances that either were very sloppy record keeping or might have been more suitable for prosecution, so I hope somebody is following up on those,” Leslie said.
“If citizens are going to have confidence in government, they need to be assured that everyone is playing by the same rules,” she said. “The audit raised a lot of red flags about whether there were state employees who were getting sweetheart contracts.”
The administrative changes approved Tuesday will go a long way to correcting any such abuses, Leslie said.
The administrative changes come as yet another state employee contracting controversy involving a new member of Sandoval’s cabinet was recently reported in the Las Vegas Sun. The newspaper reported Sept. 29 that Frank Woodbeck, the newly appointed director of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, held down two state jobs last fiscal year, earning almost as much as the governor.
Woodbeck told the newspaper he worked 60- to 70-hour weeks to fulfill the demands of the two jobs.
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith says the law may need tweaking, but she is pleased with the changes:
101311Smith :10 far, so good.”
State Sen. Sheila Leslie says she is pleased the Sandoval administration took the audit recommendations seriously:
101311Leslie1 :20 the same rules.”
Leslie says the audit raised red flags about whether there were state employees getting sweetheart contracts:
101311Leslie2 :26 the Audit Subcommittee.”
Leslie says there were a few instances that may have risen to the level of prosecution:
101311Leslie3 :11 up on those.”