Losing Patience with Christie
The first oversight report from Superstorm Sandy integrity monitors won't be ready for the legislature until July 1, and that's not welcome news for Assembly Budget Committee chairman Gary Schaer. He has grown impatient over the lack of information regarding contractors hired by the Christie administration to do recovery and rebuilding work.
"The bottom line is, it's too long," said Schaer (D-Passaic). "The bottom line is there are people in New Jersey who have not received the funds that they need. Let's stop the political run around. Let's stop blaming this one or that one. The bottom line is people in New Jersey are still suffering from the storm."
The Department of Community Affairs is complying with existing laws. The state Treasurer and the Comptroller's office are engaged in procurements and they are appropriate under state law, DCA commissioner Richard Constable said after Monday's Assembly Budget Committee hearing. Schaer was still critical of the administration.
"It's not responsive," Schaer said. "It's not transparent. It's not the kind of government we're supposed to be."
There is something else bothering Schaer. He said lawmakers were first told by the Treasurer that DCA would be able to provide answers, but Monday they were told by the DCA that the questions fall to the state treasurer.
"People in New Jersey are many things," Schaer said. "They're not stupid. They won't listen to a bunch of nonsense that doesn't take them to any kind of firm conclusion."
A spokesman for the Christie administration said in an emailed response that it would be wrong to characterize integrity monitors as the only oversight action taking place. He explained that the administration has taken many steps to ensure oversight, accountability and transparency, including the following:
- Gov. Chris Christie signed Executive Order 125 requiring that all state-level recovery and rebuilding contracts and procurements be pre-approved by the state comptroller. It also requires accountability officers to be designated in every state department dealing with Sandy aid, to ensure compliance.
- All departments and agencies that touch on Sandy relief funding are building in internal controls and best practices to track and monitor Sandy funding through each of the various recovery programs.
- The Christie administration continues to work closely and cooperatively with the Obama administration's HUD auditors and various offices of inspectors general.
- The DCA, one of the primary state agencies responsible for administering Sandy aid, brought in an independent firm, CohnReznick, last June to assist with aggressive internal compliance, monitoring, and oversight of all Sandy disaster relief funds. The DCA put in place a Compliance and Monitoring Team and a Comprehensive Compliance, Monitoring and Fraud Prevention Plan.
- Held a fraud prevention conference in Trenton hosted by the state Comptroller, with Christie administration officials from the Treasury and Department of Community Affairs, and officials from across the Obama administration including: the HUD Office of the Inspector General, the HHS Office of the Inspector General, the Small Business Administration, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the Department of Justice's Disaster Fraud Task Force and the National Center for Disaster Fraud, as well as the US Government Accountability Office.