Gov. Paul LePage’s administration has given little explanation as to why it has changed longstanding contracts and outsourced government services. The administration has touted and ramped up competitive procurement but has not made it easy for the public to see which private organizations won state contracts and why.
The administration’s decisions affect state services that thousands of Maine residents rely on and have altered the way millions of taxpayer dollars are spent. If LePage is confident that his contract awards are improving the state of Maine, he has no reason to shield them.
There is an easy fix to solving the lack of transparency surrounding Maine’s service contracts. The administration just needs to follow the law.
Last year, the Maine Legislature supported a bill requiring the state to publish online cost-savings information associated with competitive contracts. LePage tried to veto the bill but missed the deadline to do so.
More than a year later, the LePage’s administration is apparently still in the process of creating the rules needed to implement the new law but is not saying when that work will be completed.
Whether it’s refusing to talk to media, limiting the amount of information his administration releases to legislators or equating FOAA requests to a form of “ internal terrorism,” LePage has routinely dismissed the public’s right-to-know since taking office in 2011.
“If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, as [Thomas] Jefferson cautioned, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed,” Ronald Reagan’s said in a statement to mark National Library Week in 1981.
We agree with Reagan and Jefferson. An informed public is essential to the very essence of a democracy. To be truly informed, citizens must have the ability to gain insight into the decisions made by public officials. When it comes to understanding why large state contracts in Maine were awarded to one entity over another, the public is left in the dark.
If the administration today were as transparent as LePage promised the state would be when he ran for office in 2010, the public would already have online access to all contract decisions. The public would be able to see how the administration is spending its tax dollars.
Without public oversight of contract awards, there’s a higher risk of government officials awarding contracts for personal gain. Such actions are responsible for billions in lost public U.S. dollars each year.
There is no evidence LePage or anyone from his administration has engaged in such unethical practices, but the public has a constitutional right to make sure. But, in 2013, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington ranked LePage as the second worst governor in the nation in terms of transparency, cronyism, pressuring public officials and mismanagement. The lack of transparency and accountability has only worsened since then.
Making contract information available online is an incredibly easy fix that requires minimal additional resources.
The University of Maine System publishes the names of successful bidders online. The Maine Department of Transportation also publishes that information. Numerous other states, including several under Republican leadership, publish it as well. There is no reason why the LePage’s administration cannot follow suit.
If the governor’s cost-saving initiatives are as effective as he claims, it’s time for him to prove it.