The state legislature’s appropriations committee is one of the “A list” committees—charged with very important, influential and complicated tasks. Officially, appropriations “has cognizance of all matters relating to appropriations and the budgets of state agencies. Other issues under the committee’s jurisdiction include matters relating to state employees’ salaries, benefits and retirement, teachers’ retirement and veterans’ pensions and collective bargaining agreements and arbitration awards for all state employees.” But does the committee and those that report to it in the budget process need a consultant that has cost taxpayers a half million dollars over the last five years?

Charter Oak Group (COG), LLC of Glastonbury has contracted with the state office of legislative management since 2006. The state has paid $484,000 for their services since then; services that have been called into question by several Capitol insiders but characterized as “extremely helpful” by the senate co-chair of the appropriations committee.

According to the contract, obtained by The Hanging Shad, COG was to “…Identify all programs that contribute to the quality of life results and develop all appropriate measures for those programs…Offer standardized tools and a framework to any state agency to use for its own purposes or for its presentations to the Appropriations Committee or [its] sub committees…Offer a series of RBA [results-based accountability] training to all state agencies employing the RBS framework…Offer state agencies technical review and comments on their competed templates and report cards.”

It all sounds like a fancy way of saying COG helps state agencies put their best foot forward in trying to get what they want from appropriations and help approps deal with its job. That may simplistic but in this age of budget and spending scrutiny, one wonders if this consultant is needed.

Appropriations Co-Chair state Sen. Toni Harp (D-New Haven), a well-respected and experienced lawmaker, says COG is “very helpful” and does a fine job helping with RBA.

Other Capitol insiders differ. When contacted by The Hanging Shad, responses ranged from, “It’s [the COG contract] bogus” to “It’s a boondoggle” to “I’ve never heard of them.” And these are seasoned, experienced Capitol people.

On the other hand, COG enjoys a fine reputation and features its client—Office of Legislative Management—prominently on its website: “The Charter Oak Group, LLC provides an array of decision support services to organizations, from integrated performance management systems to accelerated decision processes that address specific public policy or service delivery issues. COG is one of the leading Results-Based Accountability™ consulting groups in the country, having worked with the Appropriations Committee of the Connecticut legislature, numerous state agencies, other government entities, nonprofit organizations, and community groups. It also provides evaluation and data analysis services for new and existing programs, as well as technical training to support these activities.”

One of COG’s principals is Bennett Pudlin, a well-known, accomplished former executive director of the state department of labor and Yale-trained attorney. He is the brother of former state House Majority Leader David Pudlin. David Pudlin left the state legislature in 2001, five years before COG’s first had a contract with the state.

So one can only come to one’s conclusion—is it worth nearly $500,000 of taxpayers’ money in this time of budget woes for this seemingly limited service?