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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Larry tries to do the right thing

Valencia bill creating Office of Inspector General directly targets corruption, waste

STATE HOUSE – Rep. Larry Valencia (D-Dist. 39, Richmond, Exeter, Hopkinton) urged the House Finance Committee this week to consider legislation that would establish the Office of the Inspector General as an independent way to promote good government and reduce waste, fraud, mismanagement and corruption.

For its small size, Representative Valencia said Rhode Island has seen more than its fair share of corrupt government practices. He pointed to the 2009 audit of the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, which revealed losses of $75 million due to mismanagement in the state’s trash agency. However, the financial loss was not revealed until it was too late to prosecute anyone.

Under provisions of Representative Valencia’s legislation (2014-H 7121), the Office of Inspector General would have subpoena and investigative powers to allow for the prosecution of potential wrongdoers in real-time, before the statute of limitations runs out. 

The inspector general would be appointed by a majority vote of the governor, attorney general and general treasurer for a five-year term and would be selected without regard for political affiliation. 

This individual, who would be in charge of conducting investigations involving public expenditures, would need a demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, investigation or criminal justice administration.

Similar bills creating the Office of the Inspector General have been introduced since 2001 as an effort to increase the transparency of state government and keep a watchful eye on taxpayer money.

“Let’s reduce the influence of money and special interest in government,” Representative Valencia said. “State officials and agencies should be held accountable for their actions, and taxpayers should be comfortably assured that their tax dollars are not being wasted.”

The proposed bill is modeled after a section of the general laws of Massachusetts, which established the Office of the Inspector General in 1981. This office led to the discovery of more than $400 million in overrun costs related to the Big Dig construction project. Since then, at least 27 other states have established such offices and have experienced savings and monetary recoveries that greatly outweigh the cost of maintaining the office.

Representative Valencia said his legislation falls in line with several bills introduced to promote good government practices, including the elimination of the master lever and the reinstatement of the authority of the Ethics Commission over legislators.

Cosponsors of the House bill include Representatives Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Michael J. Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Scituate, Cranston), Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence) and Donna M. Walsh (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly). Senators Leonidas P. Raptakis (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) and Catherine Cool Rumsey (D-Dist. 34, Exeter, Hopkinton, Charlestown, Richmond, West Greenwich) sponsor companion bills (2014-S 2068, 2014-S 2346) in the Senate.