Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ambitious Plans Require Ambitious Oversight

A banner proclaiming integrity hung behind the podium. The Governor mentioned ethics prominently at the beginning of his remarks yesterday. He noted passage of the Public Integrity Reform Act as one of the big achievements from last year.
And it was. The creation of JCOPE, new disclosure requirements on outside income for lawmakers and expanded reporting by those engaged in lobby campaigns are all positive developments.
Yes, the Governor and lawmakers can and should congratulate themselves, but the game isn’t over; it’s just begun. There’s so much more to do.
As I noted in my last post, I believe that all of our key regulatory and enforcement officials should get together to talk about ways to improve ethics enforcement in New York. They need to think about how their jurisdictions overlap and how they might cooperate and make the most of limited resources.
That’s one idea for 2012. Here’s another: The Governor, wisely, focused on building in his remarks. He outlined a series of development plans -- a new convention center, new economic development grants, energy transmission upgrades and more.
Statewide, we’re talking mega bucks. (More than $1 billion for Buffalo alone.)
Whenever I hear of major building programs, I naturally think about fraud, abuse and waste. That’s inevitable.
Think federal TARP money. Hundreds of billions of dollars were dumped without close monitoring.
Also, think about those NYC projects the Governor is talking about. Take the Javits Center and Aqueduct.
With regard to Javits, the state created an authority to govern its operation to help avoid organized crime involvement. But even with that authority, a state investigation in 1995 determined that jobs at Javits were under the control of organized crime. So maybe the Mob isn’t what it once was, but it still exists and the state needs to do something to ensure proper oversight of redevelopment, wouldn’t you agree?
This is also true with the Aqueduct project. This is a multi-billion casino/convention center complex that will one day be quite a landmark. What is the state going to do to ensure that questionable people aren’t involved and that the project is not derailed by ethical lapses? A while back, I suggested the possibility of creating an entity similar to the Nevada Gaming Commission. Given the expansion of gaming in New York, shouldn’t we at least talk about the idea?
Ambitious plans require ambitious oversight, and a failure to plan for that oversight can be a fatal flaw.

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