Government Technology

Texas Grades State Agencies and Local Governments on Financial Transparency

December 5, 2008 By

Photo: Texas Comptroller Susan Combs

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs says transparency initiatives have allowed the state to tighten its belt by shedding light on potential savings. On Wednesday, Combs introduced "Open Book Texas," a three-part effort to ensure tax dollars go farther in challenging economic times. The three projects include Texas Smart Buy, the Texas Transparency Check-Up Web site and the Single Set of Books initiative.

"It is clear that we have entered an era of great economic uncertainty, and government must make the most of every dollar, just like millions of working families," Combs said. "Texans deserve to know their tax dollars are being used wisely. Families are cutting expenses and looking for ways to save. Government must do the same."

In January 2007, Combs began posting Comptroller's office expenditures online --- down to the cost of pencils. The searchable database on the Comptroller's award-winning Where the Money Goes Web site now includes detailed payment and spending information for all state agencies.

"Where the Money Goes provides transparency to taxpayers, and we discovered that our emphasis on transparency made our own operations more transparent to us," Combs said. "We were able to better analyze where and how we were spending money within our agency and where and how we could save."

Combs' agency says it has saved $4.8 million and identified an additional $3.8 million in expected cost savings. Some examples of the cost savings at the Comptroller's office include saving $73,000 by consolidating multiple contracts for toner cartridges and establishing separate post office boxes to receive different types of tax payments, thereby avoiding having to spend $328,000 to buy and maintain a new mail sorter. These savings allow the agency to strengthen core functions without requesting additional funding from the Legislature.

"Now we are moving forward to apply some of those same transparency and 'buying smart' strategies that have been successful at our office to take an unprecedented look at Texas government spending," Combs said. "Our Smart Buy initiative has already begun digging through what state agencies spend annually for goods and services."

The new Texas Procurement and Support Services Division at the Comptroller's office manages more than $1 billion of the state's contracts for goods and services on behalf of more than 180 state agencies and 1,700 local government agencies.

The Comptroller expects to save at least $28 million in Phase One of Texas Smart Buy. The savings and cost avoidance represent more than 8 percent of state spending for certain goods and services. The spending categories examined so far include:

  • Overnight/express mail -- The state saved 36 percent, or $3.8 million, and awarded a significant portion of the contract to a Texas-based vendor.
  • Outgoing mail machines -- The state saved 20 percent, or $700,000, by negotiating a new contract with a long-time vendor.
  • Asphalt -- The state used to solicit hundreds of bids per year when the Texas Department of Transportation needed asphalt for road projects. This month, the state will finalize a new term contract with about 100 vendors statewide that TxDOT can use at any time. By negotiating and locking in prices, the state expects to avoid $9 million in costs over the year.
  • Fleet --The state expects to save $5.7 million on fleet vehicles through contract negotiations. Also, for the first time, the state will look beyond the sticker price to consider the cost of fueling vehicles for 100,000 miles and other operating expenses.

"The state of Texas is one of the largest purchasing entities in the nation, and we need to make that leverage work for us," Combs said. "We should always try to negotiate a better deal and never be afraid to ask for a better

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