Bills Would Provide Better Oversight of Wash. Government Contractors

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A measure in the Washington State Legislature could bring greater transparency to government contracting.

The Taxpayer Protection Act would require state agencies to evaluate the cost of outsourcing work to private contractors and follow-ups to ensure the contractors are meeting their obligations. The act also calls for accountability if companies fail to perform their duties.

Kristina Johnson-Short, a Washington Federation of State Employees member who does social work, says she's ended up doing the tasks that were meant for contractors.

"When that agency doesn't want to pick up a contract or doesn't follow through with their subcontractors to make sure that they're doing what they're supposed to, it affects child safety as well as put the work back onto the social workers,” she points out. “So it's not doing the job that it was designed to do."

Johnson-Short says social workers already have heavy caseloads, which also is leading to high turnover rates.

She testified at a public hearing this week on this legislation, House Bill 1521.

Contractors say the legislation could become a barrier to contracting with the state.

Stacy South is an occupational therapy assistant and Washington Federation of State Employees member who also testified in support of this bill.

She says her hospital receives short-term contract workers and that's affecting the continuity of patients' care.

"We are losing skilled, licensed staff, permanent staff and getting contract workers to plug holes,” she states. “And so, the overall level of service that the patients are receiving is being impacted."

South maintains Washingtonians should know more about the work contractors do to better evaluate their services.

"Why don't you want to be supervised?” she questions. “Why don't you want oversight? The only reason you would not want somebody looking too closely at that is because you know that you're not giving us a fair deal and you don't want us to know that."

There is a companion bill in the state Senate.