Towson University audit shows how government works--and for whom
A state legislative audit of Towson University that came out today illustrates the way insiders take care of each other despite the rules that supposedly govern contract bidding, government procurement and civil service employment. Say you're a favored person in government or contracting and your gig is ending (or you're retiring), and you wanna keep the gravy flowing. You could apply for another job somewhere and try to apply your skills in competition with many others. Or you could get your boss to arrange for some other government agency to hire you, on a contract basis, on its budget. That's the $4.3 million story of this audit. Tucked between the complaints about a few dozen bad checks from students (a $79,000 value) and the near-boilerplate about computer systems security, we find that the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) somehow induced Towson's Division of Economic and Community Outreach to hire, at its expense, 48 people who in-turn provided training to MDOT employees. Auditors pulled the files of 25 of these employees and found that 19 had previously been employed either at MDOT or one of its main contractors. "[I]n many cases, the annual agreements specified the names of these individuals who were to be employed by DECO to provide the services and the related costs for each. Furthermore, DECO performed no oversight and monitoring of the activities performed by these individuals even though the agreement required DECO to plan and carry out the staff training program." It's been four decades since the civil service revolution supposedly ended the practice of hiring the governor's mistress, the mayor's cousins and anyone the campaign manager wanted to a cushy no-show municipal sinecure. But creativity knows no bounds (Innovation!) and, anyway, rules are hard. So if the people employed by this work-around were actually the best-credentialed, most dedicated people with specialized knowledge, no auditor will be able to determine it. And if they were suck-ups, humps and hacks? The audit does not reveal that either. But then, what does DECO actually do? Recently renamed the Division of Innovation & Applied Research, it is "a point of entry for businesses, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and community members interested in collaborating with the University." Founded in 2004, the place allegedly employs 70 expert researchers and technical staff to "create customized solutions that are focused on solving the critical issues facing Maryland's workforce and economy." Customized solutions, people. Solving critical issues. (Like employing former government workers in a tough economy, right? Ah, but that's not on this pie chart.) The outfit houses RESI and does the State economic forecast at an annual conference. They work with employers to train new employees. They do geospacial analysis. They have a little youtube channel with five introductory vids (plus two repeats). The university concurs with the audit findings. "(DECO) has implemented several monitoring and oversight procedures that are currently in place including establishment of a structured selection practice to ensure that job candidates possess the necessary skill and experience to conduct the duties necessary for the position. We have also established formal procedures for future recruitment purposes," Towson Chancellor William E. Kirwan writes in a letter responding to the audit. Then again, of course, the university did nothing wrong. "It should be noted," Kirwan adds, "that the interagency agreement between DECO and MTA was not intended to serve as a mechanism to circumvent procurement regulations. Per COMAR 21.02.03.02 C (7), State agencies shall first consider State resources to meet their requirements as an alternative to contracting."