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Restore DiNapoli's oversight Legislature shouldn't have limited comptroller's authority over contracts

This year's state budget process again ran smoothly, thanks in large measure to the way state leaders conduct vital negotiations behind closed doors, away from public scrutiny.

While lawmakers managed to produce an on-time budget that included a number of pluses for upstate New York, they exercised questionable judgment in deciding to limit the comptroller's ability to conduct certain pre-audits of state contracts.

This is an issue that ought to be revisited.

The relaxed oversight that had been sought by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will apply to potentially billions of dollars worth of state and local government contracts in New York, those centralized procurement deals that are overseen by the Office of General Services.

We agree with State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who stresses that pre-audits are an important means for protecting taxpayer interests. The pre-audits have saved taxpayers a considerable amount of money.

The comptroller's office points to a $14 million fuel contract awarded by the Office of General Services in 2011 to a company with alleged ties to the Gambino crime family as an example.

The governor's office contends that pre-audits can be time-consuming, costly and inefficient, adding up to 90 days to the contract approval process. This is not a "best practice" scenario, and is required only in New York and Colorado, according to the governor. However, data provided by the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers from 2010 shows pre-audits as functions in comptroller offices in several other states.

The Legislature has already eliminated pre-audits for key contracts in the Department of Health, which is related to the health exchange, and for State University of New York campuses, as part of SUNY 2020.

The governor's office points out that DiNapoli will still retain the right to audit all state contracts after they are awarded. But DiNapoli is right that the push for government efficiency should not take precedence over his office's oversight procedures, with its checks and balances. Lawmakers should take another look at their decision to limit the comptroller's ability to question certain contracts.