Lack of Control: A State Board With Much Power And Too Little Ambition

Akron Beacon Journal - April 27, 2003

The Akron Beacon Journal

If the vast majority of Ohioans struggle to name even one member of the Ohio Supreme Court, it is a safe bet that few are familiar with the workings of the State Controlling Board. On the Monday Commentary page, Zach Schiller explained why they should be.

Schiller, the research director of Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland think tank, noted the important role the board plays in state government. Its seven members, three from each chamber of the legislature and one executive appointee, serve as the final eyes on billions of dollars of state spending each year. The money flows to, among other things, capital projects, programs for economic development and contracts outside the standard bidding process.

What Schiller discovered is that the controlling board itself has received insufficient scrutiny. His report, “Too Much Power, Too Little Oversight: Ohio’s State Controlling Board,” reveals a panel too often operating on autopilot. Much of the work is routine. Still, the board wasn’t created 28 years ago to serve as a mere rubber stamp. It is supposed to add a critical measure of accountability.

In 2002, the controlling board turned down just one of 1,665 spending requests that arrived on its desk. Schiller marked a troubling trend as revealed in a medical service contract for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The process lacked sufficient competitive bidding and documentation.

The odd thing Schiller found is that a board short on curiosity about spending that comes its way has, nonetheless, assumed authority that properly belongs with the legislature. Actually, the development suggests double trouble, the disinterest of the board affecting both its work and that of lawmakers.

Complaints have surfaced in the past about the board. Pledges have been made, even recently, to improve. A Republican legislature that regularly spouts about excesses in spending would seem especially eager to enhance board performance.

To his credit, Schiller proposes specific remedies. Virtually all make sense, from clarifying the board’s powers and responsibilities to providing greater scrutiny of the board granting waivers from competitive bidding processes. Of paramount importance is bringing greater light to the proceedings. Too often the State Controlling Board has operated as something of a backwater, keeping inadequate records of its meetings and decisions.

Zach Schiller and Ohio Policy Matters have performed a favor for Ohioans in bringing his eyes to the subject. The board plays too important a role to escape the necessary public accountability.

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