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Governor Mitch Daniels
More than six years after OFGP was created, 6News sought information about the office's performance in bringing home crucial federal dollars, but 6News' Kara Kenney ran into several roadblocks.
State information workers had not heard of the office and directed 6News to the federal building. The OFGP website did not list a phone number, address or person in charge.
Instead, the website included a list of government liaisons that was so out of date, some of the contacts had not worked for the state in two years.
One email address was misspelled, and some workers listed as liaisons for OFGP told 6News they don't work with federal grants at all.
WRTV's Kara Kenney
6News then asked several state lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, and they either hadn’t heard of OFGP, didn’t know enough to talk about it, or have had a tough time figuring out what the office does.
"It's the old saying about trying to nail Jello to the wall. It’s been very difficult to determine at times," said Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, also a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Pelath expressed concern about OFGP's lack of communication with lawmakers and constituents.
At least nine Republican lawmakers told Kenney they had not heard of the office or did not know what it had been doing.
"I really don't know much about it," wrote Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel.
"Sorry, am not familiar with it," wrote Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek.
Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, responded, "Negative," when asked if he knew anything about OFGP.
"If they would keep (the website) up to date, it would at least be some demonstration they're interested in this office, and I think that's the biggest thing is they seem to have just lost interest," said Pelath.
Records show OFGP spent at least $431,309 since 2005. During the last legislative session, state lawmakers allocated more money -- $165,156 -- for the next two years.
Johnston indicated that OFGP did not have a director or staff, but one person, Ryan Cole, is paid out of the OFGP funds. His salary is $68,000.
"That’s one of his roles, as well as others," said Johnston.
In the Indiana online government directory, Cole is listed as the governor's director of special projects, but 6News could not find anything indicating his affiliation with OFGP.
When asked about OFGP's inaccurate and outdated website, Johnston admitted the state has work to do.
"We need to do a better job of updating the website," said Johnston. "We’ve done a poor job of keeping those liaisons updated on the website, and we can improve there."
6News asked Johnston why state lawmakers knew so little about OFGP's activities.
"We haven't made a concerted effort, I guess, to put out any public information piece," said Johnston. "We’ve just been going about our daily activities."
It's not clear what the OFGP does, if it does anything at all. The $431,309 spent by the agency over the past five or six years would seem to correspond approximately with the salary of a "Ryan Cole" who is paid out of the agency's budget. It's not clear though that Ryan Cole actually works for OFGP.
The WRTV watchdogs might not be aware that this raises a bigger issue in state government. All throughout state government are employees getting paid out of one agency's budget, while not doing any work for that agency. I know a personn who worked in the Attorney General's Office who found out she was classified as a Medicaid Fraud Investigator when she never had anything to do with Medical Fraud. (This in particular could involve the misappropriation of federal dollars, which could well be a crime.) When I was head of the Title Insurance Division at the Department of Insurance, a secretary was paid out of the title division dedicated fund, when she was doing no work whatsoever for my division. I wrote a memorandum explaining that this practice and others being done by a mid-level supervisor were illegal. Within minutes of giving the memorandum to the Insurance Commissioner, I was called into a meeting and terminated. When I pleaded with the Daniels administration to simply review what happened at the Department of Insurance, I got nowhere. Eventually Daniels appointed the Commissioner, James Atterholt, to another position. No review of Atterholt's strange behavior in protecting the apparent illegal actions of the mid-level supervisor was ever undertaken.
The story of the mysterious OFGP agency should not be looked upon as an isolated situation, but should encourage a review of the operations of all of state government. Practices within the state agencies have gotten incredibly lax, chiefly because there has been no oversight by the Daniels' administration. It is definitely Governor Daniels Achilles' heel.