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State officials call for contracts fix at Blind Services

Interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the state's Division of Blind Services will now competitively bid its contracts.

She issued the following statement in response to the Times/Herald investigation into the Division of Blind Services. The story revealed that private vendors at the state division to help blind people dictate the terms of their own no-bid contracts and receive little state oversight.

“Florida Statutes exempt the Division of Blind Services from seeking competitive bids to contract with nonprofit entities to provide community rehabilitation programs. However, as part of the Governor’s agency-wide initiative to save money in contracting, the Department of Education has begun the process of requiring competitive bidding for these services.”

Division of Blind Services Director Joyce Hildreth, accused by her staff of "cozy relationships" with contractors, was quick to follow up.

“It is the Department’s intent to competitively bid out these services.  I am in total support of this position, and will be taking action to strengthen our contract and performance monitoring activities.”

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, whose office signs contract checks, has pushed for more authority to enforce contracts and not renew those that do poorly in audits. He issued the following statement.

"Your story certainly clearly highlights the problems and flaws in the state’s contracting system that I have brought to the forefront since taking office. This is yet another example that proves the need for reforms that promote greater accountability and transparency in grants and contracts, and ultimately protect taxpayer dollars from fraud, waste and abuse."

Here is the reaction from Gov. Rick Scott's office.

Governor Scott has asked state agencies to look for efficiencies to ensure tax dollars are used in the most effective way possible.