News Column

Site to Track Sandy Funds Is Approved

Feb. 15, 2013

John Reitmeyer

New Jersey lawmakers voted Thursday to create a website to track what will be billions in government spending on superstorm Sandy recovery and to put independent integrity monitors in place to guard against fraud.

The unanimous approval by the state Assembly follows questions that have already been raised about some of the initial contracts awarded by Governor Christie's administration in response to Sandy, which slammed the state on Oct. 29.

"Large-scale projects, particularly rebuilding projects caused by natural disasters, are vulnerable to abuse," said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, D-Essex. "The influx of taxpayer money coming our way demands additional supervision of how these funds are being used."

The governor signed an executive order late last week establishing a new money-tracking website and "accountability officers" in each state department in advance of the first, $1.83 billion batch of federal Sandy aid. That money could reach the state by the end of the month.

Christie also announced that state Comptroller Matt Boxer would be reviewing Sandy-related contracts.

Christie's actions came as questions have been raised about the governor's initial handling of the Sandy recovery, including the awarding of a lucrative emergency contract outside the state's normal competitive bidding procedures to AshBritt, a Florida-based disaster recovery firm.

The Record reported earlier this week that AshBritt sent a $50,000 contribution to the Republican Governors Association -- an organization that helped Christie win election in 2009 -- just days after receiving the contract from the Christie administration.

Democrats who control the Legislature put forward their own Sandy oversight proposals earlier this month, modeling them off similar monitors put in place to oversee rebuilding after Sept. 11, 2001.

Though Christie has signaled a willingness to work with lawmakers on the issue, they pressed ahead Thursday to make sure the website and other oversight measures become state law, which has more force than an executive order.

Source: (C) 2013 The Record, Bergen County, NJ. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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