Bills Would Help Prevent Abuse, Fraud & Waste Typical with Large Scale Rebuilding Projects
(TRENTON) – A legislative package sponsored by Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver and Assembly Democrats Lou Greenwald, John Wisniewski, Thomas Giblin, Vincent Prieto, Benjie Wimberly and Bonnie Watson Coleman to provide additional oversight to the administration of Hurricane Sandy recovery and rebuilding projects to ensure that the billions in federal funds expected to help finance these projects are used effectively and efficiently was approved Thursday by an Assembly panel.
The first bill (A-60), sponsored by Oliver, Greenwald, Wisniewski and Giblin, authorizes the use of integrity monitors to oversee Hurricane Sandy recovery and rebuilding projects to ensure legal compliance, detect misconduct and encourage best practices in the administration of these projects.
“Large-scale projects, particularly rebuilding projects caused by natural disasters are vulnerable to abuse. The influx of taxpayer money coming our way demands additional supervision of how these funds are being used,” said Oliver (D-Essex). “Communities devastated by the storm that have been waiting for financial assistance to start rebuilding should rest assured that there will be careful oversight of how these funds are spent in order to prevent any potential abuse or fraud.”
Up to $30 billion in federal funds is expected to help New Jersey in the expensive and large-scale rebuilding of communities in many areas of the state. According to experts, all large-scale construction projects are prone to abuse and recovery projects following natural disasters are especially vulnerable. Integrity monitors have proven effective elsewhere, including New York City, where they were used for the rebuilding at the site of the World Trade Center in the wake of 9-11.
“New Jersey is expecting billions in federal dollars to help rebuild the communities ravaged by the storm. Having integrity monitors watching over these projects will help prevent any potential abuse or fraud, and ensure the funds are meeting their purpose, which is to help these communities rebuild and recover as expeditiously as possible,” said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington).
“Residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by this storm have endured enough,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “The purpose of these monitors is not just to serve as watchdogs over the federal dollars that are headed our way, but to make sure that they are being spent effectively and efficiently so that residents who are relying on these funds are not affected any further.”
“These monitors have proven effective in managing rebuilding projects in other states. There is no reason why we shouldn’t use them here to help ensure a seamless and timely rebuilding process,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). “There are some communities that need to be rebuilt entirely. They are depending on this money. It is vital that we provide careful oversight of these funds for their sake.”
The bill (A-60) authorizes the state treasurer to use integrity monitors in Hurricane Sandy recovery and rebuilding projects that involve state contacts, as well as those not involving state contracts. The bill requires the state treasurer to create a qualified integrity monitor database that is accessible to the public to facilitate the use of these monitors. Under the bill, the monitors must report any finding of a likely criminal violation to the New Jersey Attorney General, as well as submit a report of services rendered to the Legislature and the governor every two months.
The second bill (A-61), sponsored by Oliver, Prieto, Wimberly and Watson Coleman, would require certain measures be taken to ensure efficient administration of Hurricane Sandy recovery funds. The bill would impose oversight upon Hurricane Sandy recovery funding by:
- establishing a Hurricane Sandy recovery funding transparency website;
- requiring comprehensive quarterly reports on Hurricane Sandy recovery funding;
- and requiring expedited priority reports for administrative problems encountered in Hurricane Sandy recovery funding to enable prompt responses.
“Rebuilding what Sandy destroyed will be a major undertaking. A project of this multitude and the bulk of funding involved demands transparency. We owe it to the communities affected to ensure that the funds slated for New Jersey to assist in the rebuilding will be spent wisely,” said Oliver.
“Residents are relying on these funds to help mend the destruction created by this storm. It is our obligation to put in place the necessary measures to ensure that the money that will be coming to New Jersey to help these residents rebuild will be spent adequately,” said Prieto (D-Hudson).
“We cannot be too careful about how money that is meant to help residents repair the damage inflicted by Sandy, is being spent,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “They have been through enough. Let’s do what we can to make sure that the rebuilding process is as effortless as possible.”
“There is always the risk of abuse in large, expensive projects. Communities affected by this storm have waited long enough for assistance from the federal government. This bill helps avoid any missteps that can potentially delay recovery efforts,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon).
Under the bill, the website would contain, to the extent available, detailed information on Hurricane Sandy recovery funding by county and municipality and detailed information on state contract and grant recipients. The bill would require that the website provide access to New Jersey’s Comprehensive Quarterly Report on Hurricane Sandy Recovery Funding, as prepared by the state treasurer under this bill. The website would also have to be updated within 10 business days of the signing of any contract or distribution of any funding to local governments or other grant recipients.
The bill would require that New Jersey’s Comprehensive Quarterly Report on Hurricane Sandy Recovery Funding contain information on the amounts, manner of receipt and distribution processes for Hurricane Sandy recovery funding. The bill would specify that the report include operating plans for state projects and administration and detailed information on the issuance of state contracts and grants involving Hurricane Sandy recovery funding. The bill would direct the state treasurer to include in the report an analysis on the effectiveness of Hurricane Sandy recovery funding in accomplishing its intended purpose and the number of jobs created by state administered projects associated with Hurricane Sandy recovery funding. The report must also include the state treasurer’s recommendations for enhanced efficiency, transparency and coordination in Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.
The bill would authorize the state treasurer to provide expedient priority reports on administrative problems associated with Hurricane Sandy recovery funding. Under the bill, a priority report could be provided at any time for administrative problems requiring the immediate attention of the Legislature and the governor. The bill would denote that the website and reports created by the bill would be restricted in content to prevent the dissemination of information which if disclosed would jeopardize legal compliance, public health, welfare, or safety, or a competitive economic position.
Both bills were released by the Assembly Budget Committee.