Ken Plum: Keeping tabs on the Commonwealth

ken plumLast week I attended my first meeting as a member of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC). I have admired the professional work of JLARC since it was established in 1973 to evaluate the operation and performance of state agencies. JLARC performs its duties in three major work functions: studies, oversight and fiscal analysis, and support. The Commission is made up of nine delegates and five senators, but the actual work of the oversight arm of the General Assembly is done by a professional staff. Major topics of research are developed and approved by the General Assembly and sometimes by the Commission. There are more topics proposed for study than there are staff or time to pursue.

Our meeting last week followed the Commission’s usual procedure of adopting a work plan for the year. Some of the items on the work plan are continuation of studies started last year as the magnitude of many studies take more than a single year to complete. Among the studies that will be completed in June of this year is one related to the state’s procurement and contract management system. Last year Virginia agencies procured goods and services through contracts worth over $6 billion. The study is looking at whether the state oversight, policies and procedures are ensuring maximum value for the dollars being spent and whether risks to the state and the public are adequately covered.

A continuing study that will be reviewed this year relates to managing costs of the Medicaid program. As people live longer and as health care costs in general continue to increase, spending on Medicaid has increased at a pace greater than all other items in the budget. In FY15 Medicaid spending exceeded $8.2 billion of which half is reimbursed by the federal government. The challenge is to appropriately control costs without compromising the quality of health care. This does not directly relate to the coverage gap of working poor people for whom the federal government would pay full cost. I do hope that the results of this study might cause the legislature to more objectively consider expanding Medicaid.

A new study for which I am particularly excited is that of early childhood development programs. It will look at the relative cost effectiveness of current programs and the potential for future cost-effective programs. Demonstrating the breadth of programs studied by the Commission is a study of applied biosolids in agricultural use and the use of industrial residuals. The Commission also receives directly reports of the Auditor of Public Accounts.

Copies of past reports on studies conducted by JLARC are available on their website: (jlarc.virginia.gov) as are agendas for its monthly meetings. I have always used their reports in my decision making as a legislator, but I look forward to learning even more details as an actual member of the Commission. The work of JLARC should give assurance to citizens that someone is keeping tabs on Virginia government.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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