Outside consulting sees sharp decline | NevadaAppeal.com

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Outside consulting sees sharp decline

State agencies in Nevada are cutting back significantly on the practice of hiring former and current state employees as consultants since the 2011 Legislature wrote new rules cracking down on the often higher-priced outside work.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Nevada Department of Administration documents show agencies have signed only 33 such contracts since the rules went into effect.

That compares to 250 legislative contracts totaling $11.6 million that auditors cited over two years in a December 2010 report prompted the reforms.

The audit raised red flags for roughly 50 of the contracts, including one in which a person sought payment for 25 hours of work over a 24-hour period.

In another, an ex-employee was making more than five times his hourly state salary for similar work as a private contractor. Another employee used eight hours of family sick leave on a day he billed for 2.5 hours of contract services at a rate of $250 per hour, the audit said

The audit showed that the Legislature was kept in the dark about much of the contract work by state employees because the Administration Department used a narrow definition of the term “consultant” and did not provide information lawmakers had sought in 2009.

Although state agencies can still enter into such contracts to fill specific needs, the process is more transparent. The Board of Examiners, made up of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, must review and authorize such agreements at regular public meetings.

Such contracts can only be approved under specific circumstances, including unusual economic conditions. Former employees who left state service within two years are covered by the contracting rules.

State Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who sponsored the legislation, said the new rules appear to be achieving the goals of transparency and judicious use of state dollars.

“I do think it is working,” she said. “It does a good job of making sure we are utilizing the employees that we have.”

Smith said she is pleased the Sandoval administration worked with lawmakers to craft the necessary changes.

There are times when a former state worker’s expertise is necessary and valuable, but it is important for state agencies to train staff to take over duties when someone leaves, she said.

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank based in Las Vegas, welcomed the news that the contracting levels have dropped off. He said the new accountability measures are helping to ensure that taxpayer resources aren’t wastefully showered on a few workers who figure out how to game the system.

“There was some obvious abuse before the new law was put into effect,” he said. “Essentially, if an employee could get friendly enough with his or her boss to convince them to agree to a contracting arrangement, the employee could be paid twice with taxpayer dollars for performing the same amount of work.”