St. Petersburg Times "Privatizers should be better than privateers" By HOWARD TROXLER, Columnist 7/28/05 I would be right curious to know how many crooks are doing time in Florida's prisons for cases that involve almost $13-million of somebody else's money. Such statistics are not kept. But I am bettin' there aren't too many $13-million cases sitting in the joint. Dope heads, stickup artists, burglars, a dime a dozen, sure. Guys who jacked a convenience store. On the other hand, the two private companies that run five of Florida's prisons were wrongfully paid an extra $13-million of taxpayer money to which they were not entitled, according to a new audit. Compared to your typical convenience-store job, this is a much bigger haul: � The state paid $4.5-million in salaries for vacant positions. � The state paid for $2.85-million worth of maintenance that wasn't done. � The state paid salary adjustments that didn't get to employees. No, wait, that one gets better. The state also paid $1.57-million in extra overhead to cover the "burden" of accepting such payments! Now, I keep using the words "the state," which is true, since this was done in your and my name by the Legislature. But the specific outfit was a five-member state board called the Correctional Privatization Commission. This board was created in 1993. It comes across in the audit looking like a bunch of clowns. Gooood audit. It is strong, clear, specific. On the other hand, it is easy to fire the cannon now, because after all, we are dancing on a dead man's grave. The Legislature has since abolished the privatization board, and reassigned its duties. None of the old guys stuck around to take the blame. The new state folks handling private prisons are smart enough not to kick this skunk. They began their reply to each of the audit's 15 recommendations with the same words: "We concur." Although it would be nice if Corrections Corp. of America and the GEO Group gave back part or all of these overpayments, it is not their job to be the state's accountants. Contract enforcement is a give-and-take art, not a science; it takes two to do the dance. So assuming a lack of fraudulent intent on the companies' part (for I am a sweet and generous fellow), let us also cheerfully assume they turned in the bills and cashed the checks to which they believed in good faith they were entitled. If they didn't, well then, cue Attorney General Charlie Crist and a grand jury. Otherwise the principal fault is the state's. The audit describes a culture within the privatization commission that was skewed toward the interest of the companies, not the taxpayers. The audit says the commission "consistently made questionable contract concessions to the vendors." Let's go even further. The fault, once again, lies with the state's philosophy. Our Legislature time and again over the past decade chose to rush public business into private hands, and declined to attach enough strings to the money. The Legislature's attitude toward even the most basic cash controls has been, in essence: "If it is a Republican idea involving privatization, then we don't need no stinking auditors." But in the private prison game, where a few big vendors ply politicians with campaign cash and lobbyists, the need was all the greater. I grew up under Democratic governments with Democratic scandals that often involved some bogus program that benefited their buddies. The one thing I expect from my Republican friends is for them to do better with my money, not just to take their turn at bat.