New Mexico is over a year late in following a law that compels greater transparency in vendor contracts.
In 2015, the legislature passed — without a single “no” vote — bills requiring the state to clearly indicate on the Sunshine Portal whether a contract went to a resident or a nonresident vendor.
That legislation, sponsored by Sen. Sander Rue (R-Albuquerque) and Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard (D-Los Alamos) was signed into law and took effect Jan. 1, 2017. On its face, it would have made Searchlight’s investigation moot: the information should already be publicly available.
But that did not happen. The state's Sunshine Portal, a project of the Department of Information Technology that collects and publishes public information from executive and other departments across New Mexico state government, currently contains no data on a vendor's residency.
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After more than a year of inertia, Gov. Susana Martinez' administration "has dropped the ball terribly," Rue said.
The legislation arose, Rue said, not from suspicion of wrongdoing but as a step toward greater transparency in state spending.
"If we can make this available to the public, then people will ask questions," Rue said. "We'll have thousands of eyes looking at this. There may be patterns that develop, things that should be followed up with questions or public records requests, inquiries into specific contracts if they raise questions. These are taxpayer dollars."
Transparency in procurement has been a bipartisan issue in recent years. Legislators of both parties supported the establishment of New Mexico's transparency-focused Sunshine Portal in 2011, and have since been pressing the state to clarify the destination of contract dollars.
Sen. Bill Tallman (D-Albuquerque) sponsored legislation this past session that would have — like Rue's and Garcia Richard's bills that became law last year — required New Mexico to collect information about whether a contract was awarded to an in-state or out-of-state vendor. Tallman said the need followed reports last year from the state auditor detailing widespread problems with how New Mexico awards and tracks contracts.
"These seem like simple fixes that could keep more [taxpayer] money in the state," he said. "It's an important issue, and I plan to return to it in the next session."
Dozens of bills have added to the data-reporting requirements since the initial law setting up the portal was signed in 2011, Rue said. The requirements they laid out, like the one identifying out-of-state vendors for the public to examine, have largely been ignored.
"Our attempts to bring the government to the people — through the sharing of information, utilizing technology that's now available — has not been done to the extent that it should have been done," he said. "It's an embarrassment."