Guest Opinion: More transparency needed for state contracting

Guest Opinion: More transparency needed for state contracting

The Westerly Sun

We all know that a 100-hour workday is impossible. Yet a Pentagon Inspector General’s report found that one Department of Defense subcontractor’s timesheet reported 1,208 work hours over a 12-day period!

Other inspector general reports have similarly found contractors overbilling or padding invoices with hundreds of hours on work outside the scope of contracts. In one case, two subcontractors were caught padding timesheets with over 1,500 hours for non-work-related activities including running a “horse-saddle padding” business. In another, a contractor employee billed more than 200 hours for out-of-scope activities including writing a novel.

Such overbilling has also been a problem in state and municipal contracting. Just a few years ago, a software contractor overbilled New York City more than $500 million on a single municipal project.

Given that Rhode Island spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on large, complex professional-service contracts, I am concerned the state is vulnerable to similar examples of timesheet fraud. That’s why I have introduced legislation (H-7788) that requires the transparent verification of billable activity.

In the absence of such verification, our agency auditors cannot verify the accuracy of contractual billing, so the state essentially pays contractors on the honor system, leaving open the possibility for fraud, waste and abuse. Further, state officials cannot efficiently monitor the status of ongoing, complex contracts, one of the major reasons we have seen some projects go far over budget and past deadlines.

To remedy the situation, my legislation would require that state contractors use newly available transparency and accountability tools to ensure that they are staying on task toward delivering contractually promised system functionalities.

By requiring vendors to use software that periodically takes screenshots of work being performed and provides automated real-time cost status of key tasks, we can significantly increase our capacity to manage complex projects, while protecting the state from padded invoices and timesheet fraud.

Such software tools, like TransparentBusiness from leading payroll and human services provider ADP, are already in use in the private sector and Rhode Island can take advantage of these best practices in managing our state contractors.

Upgrading legacy information systems and other complex projects will always be a challenge, but let’s strengthen our state’s overall information technology project management capacity with powerful new transparency and billing verification tools designed to prevent timesheet fraud.

Brian Patrick Kennedy is a Rhode Island state representative representing District 38 (Hopkinton and Westerly).


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