An unfettered CFO


Published: Tuesday, January 2, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 11:34 p.m.
Alex Sink is Florida's new Chief Financial Officer. She is also the only Democrat on an all-Republican state Cabinet. That gives the former bank executive a certain freedom of operation as the only statewide elected official with no ties to the previous administration.
A key part of the Jeb Bush "legacy" was his effort to privatize as many state services as possible. Bush says he saved taxpayer dollars and improved services. But under his watch, one privatization scheme after another proved to be more expensive and less efficient than promised.
Sink recently told the Orlando Sentinel she intends to look "closely at the advisability of doing so much privatizing." And so she should.
Pointing to the state's troubled contract with the Convergys Corp., which took over payroll and personnel duties, Sink said: "We must have a clearly written contract, so we can go to a company and tell them, 'You didn't perform the services, and we are not paying you.' We shouldn't have something so convoluted that you can't go back, evaluate the results and hold people accountable. You also can't write a contract so narrowly that only one bidder can bid."
Of course her office needs to examine the nuts and bolts of contracting to ensure that the performance follows promise. But Sink's office should also look into the political as well as the legal implications of Jeb Bush's passion for privatization.
"I assume that the new CFO will examine not just the financial controls and oversight mechanisms in the state's contracts, but also possible connections between contracts and political contributions to candidates and parties," Lance deHaven-Smith, a political science professor at Florida State University, told the Sentinel. "There is a need to cross-check the state's campaign-finance data against the officers in the companies that do business with the state."
It may be that the real problem with Bush's passion for privatization was an underlying assumption that the "right" contractor was usually the one with the "right" connections. Sink has an opportunity to determine if that was the case.

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