OPEN GOVERNMENT -- Last fall Governor Schwarzenegger, a Republican, vetoed a bill that would have required state agencies to post most of their contracts for services on an Internet website in a searchable database. AB
756 was sought by a government worker bargaining unit, the Service
Employees International Union local for Sacramento, and also the
Professional Engineers in California Government, who argued that the
state was wasting money by outsourcing computer maintenance and
consulting contracts.
Now David Cameron, head of the UK's Conservative Party and candidate for Prime Minister, is reportedly vowing that if elected he will next year begin "publishing" details of all government contracts worth more than £25,000—to help pinpoint waste.

Exhibit A in Cameron's case against uncontrolled spending is eerily familiar to watchers of California government and courts—"a new National Health Service IT system already £6 billion over budget and four years behind
schedule."

At a March 2008 Assembly committee hearing co-chaired by AB 756's author, Assemblyman Mike Eng, the Department of
General Services (DGS) admitted that there was no centralized data
collection, monitoring or documentation of the use or effectiveness of
private contractors using state dollars. In addition, DGS was unable to
explain why the number of private information technology contracts had
tripled from 1,800 in 2003-04 to more than 6,000 in 2007-08.

The Governor's new online contract database, launched since his veto of AB 756, allows lookups by department or by supplier name, but does not permit, for example, price comparisons between departments or suppliers for the same merchandise or service.  Is a department served getting the best deal offered the state?  Impossible to tell.  Eng's bill would have permitted much closer analysis, requiring each contract entry to list:

  • The name and
    license, registration, certification, or identification number of each
    contractor, as well as whether the contractor is a for profit,
    nonprofit, small business, microbusiness, disabled veteran, or
    nonprofit veteran's service agency.
  • The statutory
    basis for the authorization of each contract, including, if relevant,
    any applicable condition permitting personal services contracts
    provided by Section 19130 of the Government Code.
  • The duration of each contract.
  • The number of amendments to each contract and the number of renewals of each contract, where applicable.
  • The reason why the low bid was not accepted, if applicable.
  • The reason for noncompetitive bidding, if applicable.
  • The total amount
    of the contract allocation over the duration of the contract, including
    all known amendments to the contract, the total amount paid by the
    state agency during the most recently completed fiscal year, and the
    number, cost, bill rate, and staffing levels associated with each type
    of contract employee retained during the most recently completed fiscal
    year.

In any event, Eng is said to be preparing a new bill to achieve some of the goals of AB 756.