Take time with our tax dollars
Published: Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 17:11
Although government oversight is always something of a flashpoint issue, oversight appears to be lacking right here in Florida.
The Orlando Sentinel recently reported that many boards responsible for overseeing agencies in the state are moving at light speed when it comes to approving issues that they oversee. One example provided by the Sentinel is when elected officials overseeing Jacksonville's publicly funded jobs agency took just 20 minutes in June to approve the organization's $21.6 million budget. A few months later, they only required 22 minutes to endorse its two-year operational plan, according to the Sentinel.
When oversight boards act this quickly to approve important financial matters, it raises serious questions about how much oversight is actually happening. This can lead to problems such as wasteful spending as well as unnecessary budget items that may have slipped into plans and budgets that were approved too quickly.
This approach to doing business appears to be a common state of affairs in Florida. According to the Sentinel, everywhere from the Panhandle to the Everglades, county commissioners responsible for guiding the state's 24 regional jobs agencies generally prefer a hands-off style of management. They have been delegating authority to work force officials even though the law holds them, as well as the taxpayers they represent, accountable for more than $300 million in federal grant money that comes into the state every year.
One example of this hands-off approach is right here in Central Florida. Until recently, consortium members here met once a year, by phone, usually for fewer than 30 minutes.
According to the Sentinel, officials have insisted that there is absolutely nothing wrong with their way of doing business. They leave the task of agency oversight to staffers and workforce board members. Federal law, however, gives local elected officials a range of responsibilities; one of which is to ensure that hundreds of millions in grant money is properly spent by regional workforce boards.
It is an abdication of responsibility for these local elected officials to delegate this critical oversight task in the manner which they do. These officials need to put their hands on the tiller and take charge of these funds and make sure they are properly spent. Hundreds of millions of dollars not properly looked after can lead to serious waste, as well as the potential for corruption.
As it turns out, it has already been discovered that some of these funds have been misspent. In July, state regulators ordered Workforce Central Florida to repay more than $700,000 auditors say was misspent, according to the Sentinel. This could potentially leave local taxpayers or consortium members on the hook for the bill, as they cannot use other federal grant money to pay back the money owed.
Without the proper oversight of these funds, incidents like this one could happen again. Strong oversight is required from elected officials over these funds, particularly due to the massive amounts of it that is flowing into the state. Now more than ever, given the fragile state of the economy and the budget woes faced by many states and the federal government, we must ensure that every dollar of grant money is accounted for.