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Government Inc. part 2: Lack of contract oversight equals lost dollars

In the last two years, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has agreed to let the state lose $48 million.

That's the amount of taxpayer money Atwater spent to settle dozens of bad contracts and grants that he said could have been avoided had the state done a better job cutting the deals.

"We could have built two elementary schools with that money,'' said Atwater, a former Senate president whose office writes the checks.

In each case, the state concluded it was not going to get what it paid for, Atwater said. "So we said, 'This is hogwash and you know it.'" Rather than taking the company to court, the state agreed to settle the contract at a loss.

With $50 billion of the state's $70 billion spent on vendors this year, the state of Florida is one of the largest buyers of goods and services in the Southeast, but its contract management is haphazard and inconsistent.

Now, Atwater, Gov. Rick Scott and his secretary of the Department of Management Services, Craig Nichols, are inching toward some improvements that will change the system.

Atwater is asking the Legislature for "pre-audit" authority to review contracts before they are completed to make sure the state is getting its money's worth.

Nichols has published a guidebook for contract negotiators, including a set of uniform standards. His agency has increased the number of agencies using the state's online purchasing program, MyFloridaMarketPlace, to get better discounts, and DMS is working to streamline the state's patchwork of contract procedures. Story here.