Friday, July 1, 2011

WRTV Exposes Mysterious State Agency

I have long said that the biggest weakness of Governor Mitch Daniels is poor oversight over the administrative agencies.  WRTV proved my point in a three month investigation:
Governor Mitch Daniels
Gov. Mitch Daniels created the Office of Federal Grants and Procurement via an executive order on his first day on the job, Jan. 10, 2005. Daniels said the goal was to significantly increase federal dollars coming to Indiana.


"It is imperative that Indiana be as competitive as any other state in securing federal grants," read part of the 2005 executive order.

Federal grants are vital because they help create and support programs to teach children, to grow food, to build and fix roads and to help treat people who are sick, among other things.

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Instead, the website included a list of government liaisons that was so out of date, some of the contacts had not worked for the state in two years.

WRTV's Kara Kenney
One email address was misspelled, and some workers listed as liaisons for OFGP told 6News they don't work with federal grants at all.

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."
To see the rest of the aricle, click here.

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.

13 comments:

Nicolas Martin said...

If you want to know how much longer a governor's term will be, visit the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. In the early years there are proud announcements of reform and the lines are shorter.

I went to the BMV location in Nora today and it took 1 hour and 11 minutes for me to be waited on for fewer than 5 minutes. I simply had to get a new title which removes a loan lien. The woman at check-in blamed people for coming in before the holiday.

Nicolas Martin said...

"During the last legislative session, state lawmakers allocated more money -- $165,156 -- for the next two years."

It would be useful to know if the quoted politicians who know nothing of the agency voted for its funding. If they did it should be a crime. They should issue their press releases from prison.

Rob A said...

NM-
Coincidentally, I was at the BMV today also. At 1 hour before service, I beat you by 11 whole minutes. By my count, there were about 24 people ahead of me and 8 service positions open. That averages out to 20 minutes per transaction, considerably more than just a few years ago. Total time is still recorded on the receipt, but they reduce that figure by about 25% by not starting the timer until you clear the "check-in" line.
Truly shameful backsliding.

Advance Indiana said...

The real issue this story misses is how the governor's office is staffed with people who are bieng paid out of other state agency budgets using federal funds. If you do some checking, you will find governor's staff people who are identified as FSSA employees, even though they only work for the governor's office. I asked a State House reporter about this practice one day and her response was that every administration does that, it's no big deal.

Paul K. Ogden said...

"The real issue this story misses is how the governor's office is staffed with people who are bieng paid out of other state agency budgets using federal funds. If you do some checking, you will find governor's staff people who are identified as FSSA employees, even though they only work for the governor's office. I asked a State House reporter about this practice one day and her response was that every administration does that, it's no big deal."

Bingo, Gary. I'm sure too the practice is illegal. I don't think you can take federal funds saying your going to use them for medicaid fraud investigation and then use those funds to pay someone to work in some other area.

efk said...

What has been done with that $1 million federal Affordable Care Act grant from HHS that Indiana received a year ago to challenge unreasonable health insurance premium increases? Who is really getting the benefit of those funds?

Eric Rasmusen said...

It's too bad that the Indy Star has reduced its staff, but this kind of thing illustrates what a pitiful failure the mainstream media is at investigative journalism. This sounds like an easy topic to check out, and a big story. Most of the media is Democrat, so they don't have partisan reasons for holding back. Yet the story goes unexplored except by a blogger here.

What we need for a stronger press is not subsidies for for-profit newspapers, but big prizes for "best blog posts".

Paul K. Ogden said...

Eric, I should emphasize that I didn't raise this issue, this was all WRTV and Kara Kenney. I just copied their story.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, some of the best investiagtive reporting is being done by television reporters. Never did I think I'd see the day when TV reporters routinedly do more investigative reporting than the daily newspaper.

Eric Rasmusen said...

Ah-- my sloppy reading.

Bradley said...

Gary and Paul: Workforce Development also (more-than-likely) did the same thing with a staffperson - one who worked at DWD and then the Governor brought him to his staff as his "unemployment expert." This person was listed afterwards, however, as still working for DWD, where the bulk of monies for staff come from the federal government. I'm glad you both pointed-out using federal funds as the Governor's office is doing it is not right.

The story by Kara Kenney was very good and shows how non-transparent this administration has actually been, contrary to their assertions of being the most transparent. I have always agreed with you, Paul, about Daniels' lack of oversight of agencies. I believe, however, his lack of oversight is far more damning than you make it seem - and I would say he knows more about some of these problems than he lets on to (he probably knew about the FSSA/Mitch Roob debacle it's sounding like, and he's known for some time about DWD's problems). Just looking at FSSA's and DWD's problems alone that Daniels could have done something about years ago, those two agencies' problems will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. That's more than lack of oversight, that's what I call almost criminally negligent.he same thing with a staffperson - one who worked at DWD and then the Governor brought him to his staff as his "unemployment expert." This person was listed afterwards, however, as still working for DWD, where the bulk of monies for staff come from the federal government. I'm glad you both pointed-out using federal funds as the Governor's office is doing it is not right.

The story by Kara Kenney was very good and shows how non-transparent this administration has actually been, contrary to their assertions of being the most transparent. I have always agreed with you, Paul, about Daniels' lack of oversight of agencies. I believe, however, his lack of oversight is far more damning than you make it seem - and I would say he knows more about some of these problems than he lets on to (he probably knew about the FSSA/Mitch Roob debacle it's sounding like, and he's known for some time about DWD's problems). Just looking at FSSA's and DWD's problems alone that Daniels could have done something about years ago, those two agencies' problems will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. That's more than lack of oversight, that's what I call almost criminally negligent.

Bradley said...

Sorry not sure why it double-posted my comment.

Eric Rasmusen said...

It is quite proper to criticize Gov. Daniels in this matter, but I get the impression that it's nothing new in Indiana state government, much to our shame. He might still be the most transparent, but that's not saying much.

I know said...

If Kara Kenney would ask fellow WRTV friend Rafael Sanchez about the threats he got for uncovering illegal contracts being issued to prominent state appointed officials I bet the nasty state pay to play and the officials would all get amnesia AGAIN!

I heard Mr. Sanchez told people he was told to leave the investigation alone or lose his job. A state appointed official at the same time a state appointed university trustee president was in the middle of the whole mess and got the contract he was supposed to make sure the law was followed to avoid conflicts and illegal pandering.

After reporting it on the news with the news anchors all the sudden it went away. Even the former State Rep. who politicked for the contract from the legislature told WRTV it was not done correctly. Look in the WRTV archives on line. It is there.

There is no mystery in the current administration. It is normal daily business. Transparent? Give me a break.

Cover up? No. You don't need coverup when the IG refuses to do anything involving public officials and the AG chases whistle blowers out of town that know the law!

Wake up Indiana. You have a cesspool and it stinks to high heaven!!!!!!