Accountability Missing in W.Va.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and West Virginia legislators are upset enough about misuse of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money to pass a law they hope will keep it from happening again. Their annoyance stops short of doing anything about those responsible for the original misdeeds, however.

On Friday, state senators unanimously approved a bill intended to ensure federal grant funds are spent appropriately. In addition, according to The Associated Press, the measure prevents “government agency administrators from circumventing state law when awarding contracts.”

Whoa. Are lawmakers saying a law is needed to require bureaucrats to obey the law? It certainly seems that way.

It also seems redundant – and, for that reason, not very useful. If a public official refuses to obey the original law, why would he worry about breaking one that amounts to lawmakers saying, “About that first law: We really mean it.”

All this came about because of $126.3 million in federal grant money given to the state to expand access to broadband Internet service.

Millions of dollars were wasted in the purchase of unnecessarily complex, expensive computer network routers. At least that was just a mistake.

Later, some state government officials failed to follow state purchasing laws in administering a $38 million project to build new microwave towers. Their refusal came even after an aide to the governor told them they had to comply with the law.

Both men implicated in that fiasco still have their state jobs.

In effect, the bill approved last week requires that competitive bidding be used to award contracts through state government. But similar rules already were in place. Legislators behind the bill say it tightens the existing requirements.

We suppose that is a good thing. Again, however, with no one held accountable for the mistakes and outright breaches of existing law that prompted the new bill, why would anyone worry about complying with it?

Legislators’ anger about the microwave tower project should be followed up with an investigation of why those responsible for it have not been held accountable. Unless they are punished, all the new laws in the world will not prevent similar shenanigans in the future.