Let this lesson on the history of inspector general watchdogs on government abuses be instructive if you think a Rate Payer Advocate is going to stop the Department of Water and Power from squandering, stealing and misusing your money.
When LAUSD’s scandal erupted over abuses in spending billions of dollars in school construction bond money, they hired tough ex-FBI agent Don Mullinax to restore credibility. After years of bureaucratic and political interference and resistance, they have just turned the post over to a corporate environmental lawyer who is downsizing and restructuring the office, making it the soup of the soup of the soup of an inspector general.
A few months back, the LA Community College District hired an inspector general to clean up widespread abuses in handling of its billions of dollars in construction money. They chose a construction consultant with no auditing experience to make sure the office was all hat, no cattle.
Now Jerry Brown has acted decisively to get rid of his pesky watchdog, eliminating the nuisance of having Laura Chick hounding local and state government officials on how they are wasting $50 billion in federal stimulus money.
It was an important symbolic action, the governor-elect’s minions declared, since there are do-nothing state auditing departments already in place and getting rid of Chick will save $700,000 toward fixing the $28 billion deficit.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The last thing government wants is someone watching over their shoulder and telling the public what they’re doing.
Ability doesn’t count for much in government and accountability counts for even less.
What Brown did in getting rid of the inspector general, half of its $1.2 million cost paid by the feds, is what happens inevitably to all such posts.
In the face of scandal, they appoint a tough watchdog who faces constant obstruction and foot-dragging. When the fire of public anger dies down, they bring in a lapdog, cut the budget, water down the office’s authority.
That’s the history of inspector generals and it won’t be any different if the Department of Water and Power gets a watchdog.
The ballot measure going before voters on March 8 to create the Office of Public Accountability and Rate Payer Advocate was only given limited power and money and will be totally under the control of elected officials — watering down the post even before its created and keeping the watchdog on a very tight leash if it is created…
Chick avoided directly calling Brown out but left little doubt about what a mess state government is or that elimination of the inspector general’s office will open the floodgates to waste, inefficiency and undoubtedly corruption.
“The state is not run by elected officials; it’s run by very powerful,
very knowledgeable civil servants,” Chick told the LA Times. “Things don’t
change unless they want them to.”
Her letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who created the post and put her in charge 20 months ago when she left office as LA City Controller, outlined what she found in trying to bring a measure of accountability to the handling of federal stimulus money, half of which is still in the process of being spent.
“It is a challenge here in Sacramento to know exactly what needs fixing and how to go about it, because of the embedded culture of “we don’t air our dirty laundry.” This is so pervasive that when you, Governor Schwarzenegger, issued your executive order for departments to post their audits on your transparency website, there were all kinds of excuses used to avoid complying. For example, compliance and monitoring reviews were not posted because they were not considered to be official audits. Some departments claimed they needed many years to scan and post their reports.”
“There is a misperception in government that unearthing problems is equivalent to “throwing someone under the bus.” I believe that it is government’s duty to find problems, put forward solutions and do so in plain view. I believe the taxpayers will support and rally around this approach.”
She goes on to describe how reports are “ignored,” how the “buck is passed,” lack of “an overarching plan,” the “silo mentality,” “confusing and conflicting regulations.”
“The key legacy of the Recovery Act is easily summed up in own word: Transparency,” she concluded. “There is no doubt that transparency is the lynchpin of improving government and empowering the people.”
No doubt, indeed. Is it any wonder Brown fired her?