State Comptroller Promises Transparency of Sandy Reconstruction Money

Today marks the six month anniversary since superstorm Sandy left its devastating footprint on the Jersey coast. The recovery phase of the hurricane has been been underway for some time. With a stream of federal funds from the Sandy relief act starting to flow, reconstruction will pick up even more steam. To get a picture of how the state will monitor the Sandy funds, NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with the state comptroller, Matthew Boxer.

Any contract the state enters into that involves Sandy reconstruction funding will have to be pre-cleared with his office, said Boxer.

“We’re going to make sure that the vendor is being selected in an appropriate manner consistent with law and in a way that the public will be comfortable with,” he explained, adding that they’re off to a good start.

Boxer said the contracts that his office has reviewed — 20 in total — are all compliant and posted on the state’s Sandy transparency website, which was created over the last several months.

“That website is going to list not only those contracts but we posted on there programmatic information that set forth criteria for each of the Sandy-related streams of funding that the state has available to it,” he said, “so folks could see where the money is from, who is getting it and why they’re getting it.”

The oversight will continue even after the money is spent and recipients should expect a laser-like focus over how the money is spent, according to Boxer.

With the audit process and audit planning process established, Boxer said his office is working to avoid foreseeable problems by proactively reviewing previous audits of government agencies set to receive reconstruction funds.

“We can get some of these problems fixed before that funding comes in,” Boxer said. “We can identify what past problems have been with some of these government agencies and get those issues rectified.”

Recently, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would require oversight of all Sandy federal dollars, calling the measure redundant and wasteful. According to Boxer, passage of the bill would not have had any effect on his office’s auditing process and transparency measures.

“The governor had signed an executive order previously helping to put some of those measures in place,” said Boxer. “Whether the transparency measures that we are focused on are supported by an executive order or a legislation is for us of no particular moment, we’re focused on providing that transparency and making sure the public can see the information in terms of how money is being spent, and why, so folks can be comfortable with it.”

The New York Times recently reported that New York City taxpayers paid nearly twice as much as their counterparts in New Jersey to clean up hurricane debris left by Hurricane Sandy. The no-bid debris-removal job in New Jersey has been a source of controversy because it was initially hired under a no-bid contract.

While he wouldn’t comment on the Christie administration’s decision to award AshBritt the contract, Boxer said something like vendor cost differentials is within the purview of his office.

“That is certainly the kind of issue that we could be looking at. Our audit division now is well underway in figuring out what contracts we can be most helpful with in terms of shining a light on issues like that.”