Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Whistleblowers' Attempt to Report Mismanagement at Department of Workforce Development Were Ignored; Episode Reminds Me of My DOI Whistleblowing Experience

As a former whistleblower at the Department of Insurance, the story from the whistleblowers at the Department of Workforce Development rings true.  Let me vent on that first before I get to the DWD story.  When I came forward at the DOI and wrote a memo about illegal activity at the Department in 2007, I was immediately told by DOI Commissioner James Atterholt to resign or be fired. My repeated pleas to the Governor Daniels' staff to at least investigate what I was trying to report was ignored.  I have resorted to the courts for protection and thus far I have been given none.
DWD Commissioner Mark Everson
None of this is apparent from the recent Court of Appeals decision on my case, which simply mentions that my memo to the Commissioner included a reorganization request and suggests that unprotected speech was why I was fired.  Of course, the DOI didn't come up with that theory until well into the litigation.  I had made the reorganization request at least two times before and I had told Atterholt I was going to make it again, this time in writing, and he never once suggested I would be fired for doing so.  

The Court of Appeals, in the process of improperly weighing evidence and guessing why I was forced to resign, also cited Atterholt's deposition testimony that I had sent out draft memos of title insurance bulletins without his knowledge or his approval.  But the evidence in fact showed Atterholt told me to draft the bulletins and circulate them to the industry.  There were emails confirming that Atterholt knew all about the draft bulletins and there were witnesses to meetings he attended where they were discussed.  What was new in the memo, and what got me canned, were violations of the law at DOI that I pointed out for the first time in the memo, including the misappropriation of a title insurance dedicated fund by a mid-level supervisor.

I'm done venting.  Here's the story from WISH-TV on the DWD whistleblowers:

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Inefficient. Poorly managed. Sloppy. These strong words are being used to describe the agency that pays Indiana's unemployed. Whistleblowers came exclusively to I-Team 8 to expose this story years in the making.
One of those whistleblowers is a former DWD employee who we'll call Ken. He knows the Department of Workforce Development well. He worked there as one of the people who decides whether you're eligible for unemployment. When asked whether the unemployed can be assured their cases will be decided fairly and accurately he answered, "I would not have faith, no. And I don't think a lot of people do."
Ken doesn't want us to identify him for fear of state retaliation. But another former DWD worker, Andrew Gray, shared his story openly. 
"It's a poorly run department," said Gray.
The state's unemployment rate skyrocketed from 4.7 percent in January of 2008 to a record high 10.9 percent just a year and a half later. As unemployment reached its peak, internal e-mails obtained by I-Team 8 detail how the Department of Workforce Development - drowning in claims, calls and appeals - may have resorted to questionable tactics that contributed to a $2 billion debt.
He points to an October 2009 e-mail from Ronnie Miller, then the Unemployment Insurance Director of Benefits and Appeals. In it, Miller told DWD employees to get the number of appeals to a "more manageable number" that week. He instructed them to "correct every case based on information provided by the claimant, fix what they say is wrong." He goes on to say, "I understand that this might create some error on these cases, and we are willing to accept that in exchange for getting the case count reduced." 
When asked whether he believed some unemployed claimants were paid who shouldn't have been and vice versa, Ken replied, "Oh, I can guarantee that, yeah."
I-Team 8 uncovered memos even more disturbing. An e-mail with DELETE DOCUMENT WORK in the subject line tells employees to delete documents older than 150 days. It went to DWD workers who deal with reports from the public about problems, errors and fraud in the system.  
"Remove from your inbox," the e-mail reads. "You do not need to do anything else with them." That means hundreds of people who wrote DWD about problems and waited for a response are likely still waiting. No one ever read your letter or e-mail. It was likely deleted.  
"He wanted the number down so he sent an e-mail out department-wide to delete 50 a day," said Gray.
We've tried multiple times to interview DWD Commissioner Mark Everson, finally taking our questions to a monthly meeting where he made a presentation. We were asked to hold our questions until the end of the meeting. But Everson left early, and spokesperson Valerie Krueger told us repeatedly to send an e-mail with our questions.
It's been more than a month since that meeting, and the department still has not granted our interview with Commissioner Everson. But the state did reply by e-mail to some of our questions saying that it did not require quotas. Current employees who spoke with I-Team 8 on the condition of anonymity say otherwise.
Our whistleblowers are not the only ones who expressed concerns. I-Team 8 obtained an e-mail from a DWD manager to a deputy commissioner. The e-mail lists what the manager called 'numerous major mistakes' found by employees, and the manager says those mistakes have led to money being paid improperly.
To see the rest of the story or watch the video, click here.
We need to provide better protection for whistleblowers and we need to insure the laws currently in place to protect them are applied by the Courts which have given short shrift to the protection of state employees free speech and whistleblowing rights.  The DWD whistleblowers only avenue was go to the media because nobody else would listen. Fortunately WISH-TV did.  Kudos to an excellennt story by Deanna Dewberry.


Nicolas Martin said...

Government snitches should expect no more consideration than Mafia snitches get, and for the same reasons. They both work for disreputable gangs whose existence is predicated on violence.

artfuggins said...

The underhanded management and scandals of the Daniels administration just keep popping up.

Bradley said...

This story won't be going away either -- DWD better fix the problems now, or prepare to have their names dragged even more through the mud.

Paul, your case makes has always made me ill and is a very similar to what my friends and I have experienced, and continue to experience.

When will this state stop being a seedy bed of corruption? Not anytime soon.

I know said...


Welcome to the friends of bashed whistleblowers. Indiana and their Attorney General will crucify anyone who dares step in the way of the Daniel's administration or anyone he has appointed.

You are in good standing if you continue to experience the corruption, stupidity and arrogance of the power in Indiana. One can only hope one of their friends gets mad enough to rat on them at some point.