In 2011, legislators in Albany made the fateful decision to remove Thomas P. DiNapoli from the process of approving contracts.
As state comptroller, his pre-audit authority included reviewing proposed contracts for SUNY, CUNY and the Office of General Services. This put another set of eyes on bids coming in for various projects.
But lawmakers argued that Mr. DiNapoli’s involvement impeded the flow of the bureaucratic machinery that made economic development possible. So they opted to cut him out of the loop.
And then the bid-rigging scandal pertaining to the Buffalo Billion project struck. This led to the convictions of Alain E. Kaloyeros, former president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute; a former top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo; Louis Ciminelli, a principal of LPCiminelli; and Steven Aiello and Joe Gerardi, executives with COR Development.
It’s a stretch to say that having Mr. DiNapoli involved in the bidding process would have prevented this instance of corruption from occurring. But given his independence from the governor’s office and his understanding of when questions need to be raised about financial decisions, Mr. DiNapoli could have spotted something that just didn’t seem right.
Mr. DiNapoli has over the years requested that his pre-audit authority be restored. But his arguments over how this would improve the process of accepting bids have been largely ignored. Members of the state Senate debated a bill in 2017 to do just this, but it went nowhere.
The good news is that Mr. DiNapoli has reached an agreement with Mr. Cuomo on restoring his pre-audit authority. This gives SUNY the option of restoring this practice now and establishes a framework for lawmakers to use next year during their legislative session to pass a bill.
“We appreciate Gov. Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli finalizing this agreement to restore the Comptroller’s ‘pre-audit’ review of SUNY, CUNY, their Construction Funds, SUNY RF and its affiliates, and OGS centralized contracts. The agreement is a clear step forward and increases public accountability while reducing the risk of corruption,” according to a news release issued Aug. 16 by the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany. “We hope momentum from completing this voluntary agreement continues and the governor and comptroller work together to pass a law in the 2020 session making the agreement permanent. Reinvent Albany has long advocated for restoring the comptroller’s pre-audit authority, which was unwisely removed in 2011. Comptroller review may have prevented the $1 billion bid-rigging scandal involving upstate development projects resulting in the convictions of high-ranking state officials and major real estate and construction executives.”
The memorandum of understanding would restore to Mr. DiNapoli’s office the pre-audit review of SUNY, CUNY and their Construction Funds contracts of at least $250,000 as well as OGS centralized contracts of at least $85,000. SUNY will coordinate with SUNY Research Foundation to grant the comptroller’s pre-audit review of contracts of at least $1 million involving its non-profit affiliates Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road Management Corp. by Jan. 1, according to Reinvent Albany’s news release.
The comptroller’s office “will have 30 days to conduct its pre-audit, except for certain energy commodity contracts for which [the office] will have 48 hours,” according to the news release. “The 30-day clock will begin with receipt of all related procurement record documents agreed upon by parties to the MOU, and after other entities like the attorney general and inspector general have conducted any needed reviews.”
We urge SUNY officials to implement this new agreement right away. If they don’t approve the plan, the MOU calls for Mr. Cuomo to introduce legislation next year. This agreement strengthens the process while allowing economic development to proceed forward.