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Lawmakers Put State Agency Under Microscope

Lawmakers Put State Agency Under Microscope

By Phil Williams. CREATED Dec 18, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Amid questions about how it spent tens of millions of dollars, Tennessee's Department of General Services will now be forced to prove why it should continue to exist.

A legislative committee took that dramatic step Wednesday following questions raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates and a scathing state audit.

Every state agency has what is called a "sunset date" when it will cease to exist.

In the case of General Services, its sunset date was supposed to be in 2017.

But frustrated lawmakers moved up that date by two years, meaning department officials must come before House and Senate committees during the coming session to defend how they've spent taxpayers' money.

"We didn't have time today to get into all the issues that the members wanted to get in and this will require them to come before the committees again and to explain what has been going on," said Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville.

"The practical effect is the committee is going to have another shot at them."

Bell made the motion to trigger the process of sunsetting the department after a sometimes contentious meeting of the legislature's Joint Government Operations Committee.

They were reviewing a recent state audit that raised concerns about how the Haslam administration outsourced the state's real estate operations to Jones Lang Lasalle.

What started out as a $1 million consulting contract eventually led to another contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It's switch and bait, it borders on being just downright a hustle," said Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, after the hearing.

This follows another dramatic step last week where the State Building Commission put the brakes on JLL's controversial consulting contract.

Committee members also questioned General Services officials regarding questions, first exposed by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, about how the department outsourced the state's motor pool to Enterprise Rent A Car without putting the work out for bids.

Auditors concluded that General Services "may have benefited from conducting its own competitive bid process." The audit report also noted that the department had paid Enterprise some $150,000 for cars that were sitting in a state parking lot not being used.

Chief Procurement Officer Mike Perry repeatedly described the contract as a "learning experience."

He said that the department has reduced the number of vehicles in that lot from 80 to 20 and Enterprise no longer charges the state when cars are not being used.

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Phil Williams

Phil Williams

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Phil Williams is chief investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5's nationally award-winning investigative team. His investigations have earned him journalism's highest honors.