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“Corrupt African Nation”

Wednesday, Apr 22, 2009

* More black hat vs. white hat

A key member of Gov. Pat Quinn’s reform panel called Tuesday for lawmakers to approve meaningful state contract reforms so businesses that have given up on getting a fair shake no longer will view Illinois as the “Nigeria of the Midwest.”

Noting the state’s pay-to-play politics has been compared to a corrupt African nation, Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman said Illinois’ reputation prevents true competition for contracts and inevitably makes doing state business “more expensive, inefficient and wasteful.”

Comparing Illinois to “a corrupt African nation” is just a wee bit much. Obviously, that person has never been to a corrupt African nation or he would know better.

Some of the commission’s reform proposals regarding the procurement system prompted one wag to send me this e-mail…

I doubt any of them have ever bought as much as a pencil through a competitive bid process.

That may be true, but at least some of the commission’s procurement ideas are worthwhile, particularly “real time” reporting of the entire contracting process, identifying subcontractors and creating an independent oversight board to keep an eye on things. I’m not so sure about their plan to consolidate and wall off procurement directors from state agencies. That may not work well.

Anyway, there isn’t really a whole lot of meat in the news stories about yesterday’s hearing. Some drama, but a lot of he said/she said. So, I’ll just give you a roundup and you can discuss amongst yourselves…

* Ill. reform group pitches purchasing plan

* Forty days and 40 nights

* Reform panel says state purchasing needs to be overhauled

* Gov. Pat Quinn’s reform panel: Key member calls for changes in how Illinois awards contracts

* State contractors could have new watchdog

* SJR: Governor’s reform ideas need work: A better way to ensure turnover amongst lawmakers is to change Illinois’ ridiculous redistricting procedure.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - dan l - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 8:08 am:

    Comparing Illinois to “a corrupt African nation” is just a wee bit much. Obviously, that person has never been to a corrupt African nation or he would know better.

    Definitely a bit much. Still kinda funny though. I look forward to our pirates jackin’ boats out on lake michigan.

  2. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 8:13 am:

    There must be a course in prosecutor’s school that requires a pithy, money quote for every press conference.

  3. - 2ConfusedCrew - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 8:28 am:

    That Wag is a bloomin genius….some of the ideas are good….many of the ideas are already being carried out without the glossy Quinn Commission hype.
    When will someone ask why these companies avoiding IL don’t blow the whistle a little more often?

  4. - Ghost - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 8:33 am:

    Wal-mart has one of the best procurement systems in the world, reverse auction style.

    Have the interested contractors bid against each other to see who will offer the lowest price. i.e. disclose bid amounts and see if a reliable bdder will do the work for less until you reach the lowest price.

  5. - Hank - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 8:57 am:

    c’mon, I grew up in the 50’s and the cowboy wearing the white hat always beat the guy with the black hat and got the girl (or the horse) to boot! Things were so simple then

  6. - Niles Township - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 8:59 am:

    I have years of experience of procurement of services and goods, and all I can tell you is that the state has it all backwards. No corporate procurement department operates like any procurement group in state government. The recommendations are all worth considering, and most are worth adopting.

  7. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 9:08 am:

    The thinking behind the current procurement process is so damn obsolete it belongs in 1949, not 2009.

    It is time to change it.

  8. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 9:15 am:

    There should be a rule which states that before being compared to a corrupt African nation Illinois must first exceed Banana Republic status which is next in line when exagerating disfunctional government and also respects the Monroe doctrine of hemispherical overstatement.

  9. - Truthful James - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 9:27 am:

    Let’s start with two precepts

    Zero based budgeting for all departments.

    No public official can hold more than one public position.

  10. - Objective Dem - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 9:36 am:

    I don’t think they ever really defined the problem before trying to fix it. They started with the premise that the procurement system was corrupt and needed to be fixed. There are “corruption” problems with the procurement system but there are a lot of other problems with procurement that need to be corrected. I haven’t read the recs but from the summaries, it seems like they are focused on adding more red tape to an already overly bureaucratic process.

  11. - Dago Red - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 9:37 am:

    Corrupt African Nation…that’s hilarious…of course, we have exported this mess to Washing Tundy Sea now, and we will soon ALL be part of the great African governing mind set. By the way, how’s that system working out in Africa?? Arent they ALL 3rd world countries? Thank you Chicago for sending America down the toilet.

  12. - Arthur Andersen - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 9:59 am:

    Is it just AA, or did anyone else think the ethics lecture from an employee (yes, I know he’s an ex-Fed, white hat, yada, yada, yada) of the City of Chicago was well, a bit ironic?

    As Rich has noted in his commentary on contribution limits, AA can speak with some clarity that he has never seen the solution to inefficient bureaucracy to be more bureaucracy.

    Coupled with the absurd testimony that no one besides Rod Blagojevich was apparently responsible for the Executive Order that put more power in the hands of CMS (Clue #1) and GOMB (Clue #2) AA is convinced that the Reform Commission was staffed by Insp. Jacques Clouseau and Capt. Milo Minderbinder.

  13. - FlackerBacker - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 10:03 am:

    While it’s easy for everyone to throw stones and want to throw the old system out, let’s remember where/when our current procurement code was put in place… in the 90’s as Gov. Edgar was trying to distance himself from the MIS scandal. The current procurement system is based on the “Model Procurement Code” developed by the American Bar Association that is actually used by most governments, of course with certain variations.

    The procurement code is also regularly updated to reflect changing needs. The little-known Procurement Policy Board reviews and approves these policy changes and also reviews state procurements on an ongoing basis.

    I’m not saying there isn’t a need for refinining current system, I’m just saying throwing the current system out isn’t as easy/productive as some commenters seem to think.

  14. - Truthful James - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 10:07 am:


    Let us keep the analogies straight.

    In “Catch 22″ (by Joseph Heller) Capt. Milo Minderbinder was an extremely efficient manager of war resources to his own profit. Not by any means the blunderer that Clouseau was.

    There were others on that island in the Med who would better fit your analogy. An apology, please, to the good Captain. Corrupt he may have been, efficient and profitable he always was.

  15. - Wumpus - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 10:21 am:

    If I were a Nigerian official, i would demand a public apology for that vicious insult.

  16. - Captain Flume - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 10:34 am:

    Hyperbole is often used to emphasize a point. The allusion itself is not the point, though perhaps Nigeria is the Illinois of Africa. I know this blog has used the TII reference on several occasions.

    Given the nature of Illinois’ political culture, though, I doubt any meaningful changes in contracts and procurement are likely.

  17. - Vote Quimby! - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 10:44 am:

    Wumpus, I agree! If I was Nigerian I would be VERY insulted!!

  18. - Steve - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 10:46 am:

    Is Illinois as corrupt as some African nation? Probably not.But,the notion that Mike Madigan and the Democrats want “change” or reform is laughable.Why should Mike Madigan want reform? Or the powerful coalitions of unions that back him? You’ll notice that Pat Collins’ commission isn’t promoting term limits on politicians or an anti-nepotism law(banning relatives from getting on the public payroll).

  19. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 11:01 am:

    Have the interested contractors bid against each other to see who will offer the lowest price. i.e. disclose bid amounts and see if a reliable bdder will do the work for less until you reach the lowest price.

    This is similar to how billions of $ in state and local highway, airport and mine reclamation contracts are already bid each year, except the bid prices are not revealed until they are opened. There is a programmed cost based on engineering estimates that is availabe to all bidders. With the economy in the dumps, there are a lot of bidders going after the work today, and prices are coming in lower than last years’.

    Not sure if the state would get better bids under a revealed bid “reverse auction” scenario, or whether the feds would allow it if there is federal funding involved.

    Some process are prohibited by state and federal law from being bid by low price alone (for obvious reasons), such as architectural and engineering services.

  20. Pingback Chicago Content » Illinois Called ‘Nigeria Of The Midwest’ By Reform Commission Member - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 11:01 am:

    […] (via Capitol Fax) from HuffPost Chi Read full articleSHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “Illinois Called ‘Nigeria Of The Midwest’ By Reform Commission Member”, url: “″ }); […]

  21. - Honest Abe - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 11:09 am:

    Illinois is not “the Nigeria of the Midwest.” A more apt comparison would be to Zimbabwe, a kleptocracy run by a dictatorial president for life where the election process is a joke.

  22. - Larry Mullholland - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 11:27 am:

    I have been on both sides of state procurement.

    The problem is the large contracts. The many “Sole Source” contracts. Generally speaking, the problems are not the process, rather it is the people.

    There are systems in place to limit abuse and fraud. The laws and admin rules were simply ignored by the powers in charge.

    What we have witnessed over the years is the staff involved were corrupt and abused the process. When the director’s office, CMS or the Gov’s office is directing who should get a contract it becomes political and corrupt. When a procurement officer objected to a particular questionable contract the questioner was either circumvented or removed from their post.

    Blago’s people were amazingly arrogant and would not take no for an answer. Most of Blago hacks are still in their jobs under Governor “Mr. Clean” Quinn. Although, I dont think we can call them Blago hacks anymore they are now Governor Quinn hacks.

  23. - Secret Square - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 11:54 am:

    Obviously the “corrupt African nation” analogy is a bit exaggerated since, as far as I can tell, Illinois political corruption has not led to mass starvation, genocide, or civil war. I have yet to see mothers wandering across the prairie with their dying babies in search of food, or refugee camps springing up along interstates, or Republicans having to hide in basements to avoid being slaughtered by Democrats. Blago, bad as he was, never sent goon squads out in the middle of the night to imprison or shoot his enemies. We did not have to send tanks into the streets of Springfield (or Chicago) to get rid of him. We ought to be thankful for that and for the fact that the consequences of our political corruption, bad as it is, are not far worse.

  24. - SVEA - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 11:55 am:

    We need to be careful regarding the assessment of what needs to be changed and what should not be. The state puchases care (health, mental health, substance abuse etc) from agencies that are located throughout the state. These services are already under funded. Bidding them will not help that situation. Commodities are a differenct story - although I would like the panel to do a CUSTOMER SATISFACTION SURVEY of shared services such as MIS and procurement. We buy pens that don’t work, computers are three times the price. Iowa several years conducted a pilot project with a number of their agencies where they removed some of the rules - the agencies saved money and staff time - we need to be better consumers.

  25. - Wumpus - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 11:57 am:

    I am waiting for Madigan, Quinn etc to send me an email stating they have come upon a large sum of money overlooked by the prior administration. They cannot withdraw it as it would put them/the state in danger re: stimulus funds. All they need is my checking account info to deposit the money and I the taxpayer would receive 15% of the newly found money.

  26. - Cassandra - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 12:08 pm:

    Aren’t there a lot of no bid contracts and aren’t there a lot of increases to existing contracts. I’d like to see those go online first since it seems that it would be easy to subvert. Give somebody a low contract to begin with then keep
    adding more and more……

    If there is a Model Procurement Code and some kind of enforcemnt/oversight board already, is Illinois significantly out of compliance? When did the Procurement Policy Board last review Illinois’ practices. And if that board isn’t doing its job, why not. Who is on it?

    I know little about contracting but I am among the many Illinoisians who believe that in Illinois the process has been corrupted under Blago and Ryan and likely back through the ages.
    However I don’t necessarily think that a new
    commission or two would necessarily fix the problem. The problem seems to be that we elect and re-elect governors who don’t believe any of the rules apply to them. And when a new ones says he is going to change all that we are understandably skeptical.

  27. - Stacker of Wheat - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 12:19 pm:

    Many years ago the state procuremt act required that Chicago’s purchasing agent be retained with a four year contract that was not coterminous with the mayor’s term. The individual was protected from retaliation from refusing to make political decisions. That didn’t do much good.

  28. - Jim Rockford - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 1:08 pm:

    How come I’m no longer getting any responses from Nigeria to my emails promising substantial sums of money in exchange for help moving millions of dollars out of Illinois?

  29. - 2ConfusedCrew - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 1:45 pm:

    Seems like this story really belongs here….Looks like there is a lack of love at the University of EMil…what gives?

    Chicago State faculty want trustees removed
    The unanimous vote from the Faculty Senate comes as Chicago State trustees plan to announce next week their decision about the next university leader. The faculty also asked Quinn to stop the board from hiring a president.

    “The faculty of Chicago State University has lost confidence in the ability and motives of the Board of Trustees, and no longer trust their ability to fulfill their responsibilities,” according to a letter the Senate plans to deliver Wednesday to Quinn.

    Chicago State faculty and students have argued that they were excluded from the presidential search process and have criticized the two finalists as local political insiders.

    On Friday, 13 of the 15 members of the campus’ search advisory committee resigned in protest, saying they were not allowed to provide input into the selection of the two finalists and could not recommend either of them. The committee includes faculty, staff and administrators, including the university’s provost.

    The finalists are DOCTOR Carol Adams, secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, and Wayne Watson, the retiring chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago. Both spent a day on campus last week for often-contentious meetings with students, faculty and community members.

  30. - Cassandra - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 2:18 pm:

    If Dr. Adams doesn’t get the job, does that mean that Quinn has to keep her on at DHS? She must have clout. DHS is not performing well, with the huge loss of Illinois taxpayer money resulting from federal decertification of Howe Developmental Center only one of the problems which occurred under her watch.

  31. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 3:08 pm:

    A lot of this is just silly. Much of the state’s buying is very cut and dried–canned peas for Corrections, shoes for the MI and DD facilities, gasoline for state autos, salt for IDOT for the highways, patrol cars for the state police, etc. I can’t remember the last time I saw any hint of a scandal with any of that.

    In spite of what these wizards say, what we face here isn’t a procurement problem or a process problem, its a people problem. Put the wrong people in charge of anything, and it can and will go wrong. In the area of goods, I personally see few if any issues involving corruption that need to be solved.

    We apparently have had problems with certain kinds of activities, especially those where there is more discretion in what services (not goods) to buy. Pure and simple, the wrong people in key positions can influence that process in an improper direction.

    On the other hand, while immediately conceding that I did not work for any state agency during the past administration, I can tell you confidently that in the 12 years where I was intimately involved in a variety of very large discretionary procurements, I just didn’t see much of what these people are talking about. In those 12 years, I could easily count on the fingers of one hand the number of times anyone from the Governor’s office, or any elected official, tried to tell me who to select in a procurement. To tell the truth, I’m not sure I can think of 5. And even then, when a Director said “No, they aren’t competent or their price is too high” no one even remotely tried to push beyond that.

    One more thing. Evidently at the hearing yesterday, Hoffman or someone testified that part of George Ryan’s legal problems were his attempts to steer contracts to his friends while he was Governor. So we procure 7B per year, he’s Governor for 4 years, $28B. Can anyone give me a list of the 10 biggest contracts he was charged with steering to a friend while he was Governor? OK, how about ANY 10 contracts? OK, how about ONE contract?

    I gripes my a– that people who know virtually nothing about the subject they are speaking on make allegations like that.

  32. - Arthur Andersen - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 3:34 pm:

    TJ, good point. Let’s say Sgt. Hans Schultz staffed the committee instead of Milo.

  33. - Larry Mullholland - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 4:08 pm:

    I think Steve Schnorf reiterated my exact point even more clearly than I could.

    It a people problem not a process problem. Eliminate hiring fraud and abuse is the first step.

    Gov. Quinn: We are waiting and waiting and…..

  34. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 4:30 pm:


    Let’s just say there have been a few companies hired by the state that were selected over more qualified or more highly performance rated companies for supposedly “merit based” selections. It would be interesting to follow the money in those cases, so to speak. Even so, I will concede that a retired state employee who sat in on the selection meetings for a certain state agency said the process was about “80% fair”, meaning the good guys won most of the time.

  35. - Truthful James - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 4:46 pm:

    SDofS –

    And you believe that 20% is an acceptable level of corruption?

  36. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 4:57 pm:

    I don’t think the other 20% is necessarily “corrupt” in the meaning you may be thinking, just not “fair”. I have seen folks start off with a bias in favor of some vendor just because they like their past work, so they score things higher for that vendor. I don’t think there’s anything illicit going on, just not “fair.” I don’t know how you ever twist that out of the system, though.

  37. - Black Ivy - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 4:58 pm:

    As I a Nigerian-American, I take offense to the notion that somehow my mother country is more “corrupt” than myriad state and local municipalities. In one fell swoop, Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman reinforced African stereotypes and condemned Nigerians everywhere to ill-got tendencies. He need not look further than my block in Chicago if he wants examples of “pay-to-play” politics.


  38. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 5:06 pm:


    Reading is fundamental. Where in that post do you see me defending corruption? I did say that it would be interesting to follow the money…there might be some legitimate reason to hire a lesser rated or qualified company, which would account for some of the 20% (insert your defense of DBE programs, giving new firms a chance, etc.). There are also not-so-good reasons to hire a lesser rated or qualified company, and if there is evidence of wrongdoing, it should be reported and pursued. Someone’s opinion is not strong enough evidence, though, and these cases are hard to prove unless the perpertrators are clumsy, brazen and greedy enough(remind you of anything in recent state history)?

  39. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 5:45 pm:

    Some of you are making my underlying point very well. Even bad procurements don’t necessarily mean corruption in the sense that these eggheads mean it; not orders from the Gov or someone, not a bribe, just a less than perfect selection for a god-awful different number of reasons.

    You can’t separate operations from accountability and expect it to work well. When there is no salt for the roads left in March and it snows and freezes, are people going to blame some insulated bureaucracy somewhere? No, the are going to blame a Governor, and he/she needs to be accountable for the problem

  40. - aloize - Wednesday, Apr 22, 09 @ 8:15 pm:

    As a Nigerian who came to chicago to escape religious violence and corruption I resent this comment. There is no place in America that suffers from the problems of Nigeria. You give any person in Nigeria a plane ticket to chicago and they will take it. Americans just don’t understand how privileged they are.

  41. - Lynn S - Thursday, Apr 23, 09 @ 12:18 am:

    Dear Black Ivy and aloize,

    We here at Cap Fax are glad to have you with us. We are sorry about the political problems that you have faced back in Nigeria.

    I have no doubt that you will agree with the statement that political corruption is less obvious in Illinois. Can we agree, however, that there probably some areas in both political enitities that could benefit by removing the syncophants and cronies, by making the election processes more straightforward, and by improving the procurement processes?

    Hoping you are having a good life in Illinois (in spite of our weather) and will visit us here often!


    Lynn S.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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* Emergency Management Officials, National Weather Service Encourage Winter Preparedness - November is Winter Weather Preparedness Month in Illinois
* Keep Your Family Safe This Winter - November through February are leading months for carbon monoxide related incidents
* Governor Takes Bill Action
* Illinois Department of Labor Director Hugo Chaviano Awards Governor’s Award for Contributions in Health and Safety to the Illinois Refining Division of Marathon Petroleum Company LP
* State Regulator Elected Treasurer of Interstate Medical Licensure Compact

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