LIPA seeks to hire consultants to help with oversight

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The Long Island Power Authority is looking for a few good consultants to help with its primary remaining function: oversight.

LIPA on its website recently issued a request for proposals seeking outside firms to help it oversee its contract with PSEG Long Island, among other tasks.

"LIPA seeks to retain consulting services and support to LIPA on various aspects of the interpretation, monitoring, oversight, and enforcement of the contracts that LIPA has with its manager and utility provider (PSEG)," the bid request says.

The call for help, issued late last month, comes after LIPA was forced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's LIPA Reform Act to slash its staff to around 40 employees. LIPA also has seen a staff exodus this year, including five-year veteran Paul DeCotis, who had been managing director of contract oversight.

LIPA spokesman Michael Deering said given staff reductions at LIPA, it is "appropriate to have consulting services contracts in place that may or may not be needed to augment staff resources and to be used only to address specific tasks or projects as conditions emerge and needs arise in a transparent and timely manner."

He declined to say how much LIPA would spend on the services.

Over the years, LIPA has been criticized for using outside consultants to do everything from auditing to advertising to legal work. The 2013 Moreland Commission on public utilities rebuked LIPA for its widespread use of consultants, including some at rates it called exorbitant. It referred some of its findings to the U.S. attorney's office for possible criminal investigation, but the matter was ultimately dropped, and LIPA itself found no wrongdoing.

The act also created a new oversight role for the state Department of Public Service, which has opened a new branch on Long Island with a $5.5 million budget and plans to hire 40 people. The department has a "review and recommend" oversight role.

The authority's bid request notes "LIPA maintains the responsibility of contract oversight and maintains a staff devoted to this function," but adds that it needs consultants "to assist LIPA in its contract oversight responsibilities and other areas that it may require."

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Among the oversight functions with which it needs help: retail rates and pricing, customer service, power supply service, transmission and distribution, distributed generation and the Utility 2.0 proposal to cut power use, and efficiency and renewables.

LIPA said it may select more than one consultant or consulting firm for each set of needed services. The proposal says fees must be locked in for the first two years, and any increase for the remaining three years can't exceed 5 percent.

Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he wasn't surprised LIPA would turn to outsiders for help. "Given that cuts have been exacted upon the agency in a rather severe way, their option is down to this one," he said.

But Arthur Abbate, a former utility customer service manager who worked with LIPA while at National Grid, said reliance on outsiders may indicate a shortcoming. "I certainly hope it's not indicative of the fact that LIPA doesn't have the skills to do this," Winfield said.

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