Archive for the ‘Tim Walz’ Category

The last part of Friday night’s Almanac Roundtable focused on DFL mismanagement of multiple agencies and departments. Moderator Eric Eskola opened that portion of the segment by saying “Gregg, you were around the legislature for a long time and with candidates and so forth. I really sense that this is a bad year for big government in Minnesota, Human Services and so many problems and I wonder if it was this bad when you were working for Speaker Sviggum?” Later in the segment, Eskola interjected, saying of Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles’ testimony at this week’s hearing that “If this was a prize fight, they would’ve stopped it. He just mopped the floor with her.”

Eric Eskola has been a significant part of the Minnesota media for a generation+. That’s the most provocative thing I’ve ever heard him say. That isn’t saying that he’s wrong. In fact, I think he’s exactly right. The times I’ve watched Auditor Nobles testify about DHS’s mismanagement, Mr. Nobles didn’t pull his punches. He’s landed some hard-hitting body blows to DHS management.

The laughable part of the segment was Abou Amara saying that divided government was to blame for the mismanagement. It’s laughable because the executive branch can function perfectly whether there’s unified government or divided government. Period. Stop.

Amara is right in the sense that it’s easier to pass legislation when it’s unified DFL government. That doesn’t guarantee problems getting fixed, though. The bigger point that Amara intentionally side-stepped is that reform-minded people in the executive branch could start changing the culture without passing a single law. That doesn’t mean we don’t need reforms to fix DHS’s problems. It simply means we can start fixing the problem by hiring high quality management personnel.

Gov. Walz got criticized for the mismanagement:

Gov. Tim Walz’s administration came under fire Wednesday for violations of state contract laws. Republican senators held a hearing about the violations, which occurred when vendors working with the state started work before contracts were signed and when employees committed to spending state money without agency permission. Records from the administration show these violations happened roughly 1,300 times over the last year.

Minnesota’s bureaucracy needs a major overhaul. There’s no time to waste.

Anyone that thinks that the Minnesota Department of Human Services isn’t suffering through a crisis hasn’t been reading LFR lately and they certainly haven’t read this article, either. After reading the article, LFR reached out to Rep. Nick Zerwas of Elk River, who consented to an interview.

Q: What has bothered you the most about this scandal thus far?
A: Obviously the total lack of accountability is disappointing (but predictable).
Q: You say that it’s predictable that there was a lack of accountability. Why is that predictable?
A: In all of the scandals at DHS over the last 7 years I’ve been in the legislature, I can’t recall anyone ever being held accountable.

If you visit Rep. Zerwas’ legislative website, you’ll see a lengthy list of statements on the DHS crisis. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that DHS management has responded to the crisis.

Rep. Zerwas issued this statement yesterday:

Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, who serves on the House Health and Human Services Finance Division and has called for a full forensic audit of all state and federal spending at the embattled agency, is calling on Ramsey County Attorney John Choi to examine the latest report, and determine whether the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office should step in to prosecute the repeated violations of law.

“While I appreciate the good-faith efforts Commissioner Harpstead is making to clean up the agency and restore public trust, at some point we must determine whether there are consequences for violating the laws we have in place,” Zerwas said. “If the agency is unwilling to hold employees accountable, then it may be time for law enforcement to step in.”

At this point, actions and consequences are more important than words. If the Ramsey County Attorney won’t prosecute lawbreakers, then it’ll be apparent that their office isn’t taking this seriously. There were other questions asked of Rep. Zerwas. This one stood out:

Q: One final question: Should the legislature break up DHS? Or is just changing the culture required?
A: I think the agency is too large, and I would support breaking it up. However, a restructure of DHS alone will not fix anything. If the employees don’t believe there will be consequences for their illegal actions, then I guarantee you nothing will change.

That’s the growing consensus about DHS. There’s no question that the culture must change. The Department must change, too.

The records obtained by the newspaper show employees sometimes allowed vendors and grantees to perform work or services without finalized and signed contracts, while in other cases employees bought products such as software without the required permission. Department officials said the agency has safeguards in place that prevent spending in such situations. But legislators said the violations put the agency at risk for misusing taxpayer dollars.

Thank God for those departmental safeguards. Where would we be without them? Apparently, DHS management doesn’t pay much attention to those ‘safeguards’. Question: Can they be considered safeguards if nobody pays attention to them?

Apparently, the DFL isn’t serious about protecting whistleblowers. If the DFL was serious about eliminating corruption, this wouldn’t still be happening:

A state whistleblower says she is still being retaliated against months after she reported wrongdoing. Faye Bernstein, a compliance officer at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said she has been excluded from the work she did before speaking out, told by superiors that her opinion “is no longer needed,” and encouraged to take time off or seek therapy when she objected to the retaliation she continues to face. And Bernstein said some employees have even started “wild and hurtful rumors” to discredit her.

Bernstein, a 14-year veteran of the department, raised concerns in July about “substandard and noncompliant” state contracts that were being approved by leaders in the agency’s behavioral health division, which pays out millions of dollars in contracts and grants for programs that include battling addiction and the opioid epidemic.

This started before the Walz administration but it’s obvious that the Walz administration isn’t taking their responsibilities seriously. When she was appointed, I said that new Commissioner Jodi Harpstead was a terrible pick. That was mid-August. It’s now late October. Changing the culture takes time but it isn’t unreasonable to think that Ms. Harpstead should get 1-2 of her top priorities fixed in that time. According to this testimony from Ms. Harpstead, changing the culture wasn’t a high priority:

That’s depressing. What’s depressing, too, is that, after naming Harpstead the new commissioner 2 months ago, Democrat Gov. Tim Walz essentially disappeared. I just did multiple searches for Gov. Walz but found only a handful of articles, most of which dealt the insulin issue. The insulin issue is important but the DHS whistleblower/bullying scandal is important, too. Walz and the DFL have disappeared on the issue of eliminating fraud within DHS.

The DFL hasn’t provided meaningful oversight on DHS. Tim Walz has disappeared. Walz’s new leader for DHS, Jodi Harpstead, hasn’t prioritized changing the culture in her new department, meaning that DHS’s culture remains toxic. Big government that thinks it doesn’t answer to anybody is a nightmare. Why doesn’t the DFL think that stopping corruption and bullying is a big thing? The DFL has treated these scandals like they aren’t interested.

Margaret Anderson-Kelliher is trying to con Minnesotans into a massive gas tax increase. Sorta. This is where we’ll get into the weeds a little. Normally, I wouldn’t waste my time but this isn’t normally.

Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson-Kelliher is pushing a combined gas-tax increase along with what she’s calling a “debt-service fee” that would raise fuel prices by up to 15 cents per gallon, according to interviews with local news outlets.

Anderson-Kelliher did back-to-back interviews with the Rochester Post-Bulletin and the Mankato Free Press in September to promote the idea. Minnesota’s DFL Party began “actively exploring” the debt-service fee in July, which would increase gas prices to help cover the costs of borrowing money for highway improvements.

Next comes the razzle-dazzle:

In her interview with the Rochester Post Bulletin, Anderson-Kelliher said the state “should start anew and look at ways we can build from there. There is a real need in this community to address not only the transportation movement of cars and transit, but people want to bike safely and they want to walk safely. And to be able to do that, you actually need more resources,” she said.

The Center of the American Experiment’s Tom Steward thinks this means Anderson-Kelliher plans to use “the increased bonding capacity as a backdoor way of building bike paths and diverting billions of tax dollars to green alternatives to the automobile.”

Gov. Walz tried pushing through a massive tax increase during the budget session. It failed miserably. IF Gov. Walz tries pushing that agenda again, he’ll have to work with an all-GOP legislature in 2021. The other possibility is watching DFL legislators abandon him in large numbers. If Speaker Hortman pushes this agenda in the House, it will be her only term as Speaker. Tax increases aren’t popular. Gas tax increases are the least popular of the tax increases. Having the DFL push a gas tax increase right before an election is a gift — to Republicans. Having the DFL push a gas tax increase and ‘debt service fee’ increase to pay for bike paths and walking trails in an election year is political suicide for the DFL.

This won’t happen unless we have another Override Six fiasco. If something like that happens, which I don’t think will happen, those senators will be primaried and their political careers will be over.

To say that Michelle Benson is on a mission to fix the graft and corruption within the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) is understatement. Sen. Benson hasn’t let up in her pursuit of answers into why Democrats ignored the corruption within the Department. According to this official statement, Sen. Benson sent out questions to key figures in the recent crisis.

According to the statement, “During the HHS hearing on August 13, Senator Michelle Benson told DHS officials she would provide written questions for the department to answer. Questions were sent on August 19 to Carolyn Ham, Acting Commissioner Pam Wheelock, and Deputy Commissioners Chuck Johnson and Claire Wilson. Benson did receive acknowledgment the questions were received by Acting Commissioner Wheelock. However, with another hearing scheduled for September 4, Benson has not received substantial responses to the requests, nor has she received responses the data practices requests made in July.”

In other words, political appointees within DHS have refused to cooperate with the legislature’s legitimate oversight responsibilities. I wrote here that Jodi Harpstead, Gov. Walz’s appointee to replace Commissioner Lourey, has a history of specializing in hiding important details from authorities.

Ms. Harpstead hasn’t assumed her position as Commissioner but the Department has already started with hiding things from the legislature. Imagine how tight-lipped they’ll be when Ms. Harpstead, aka the silence-meister, takes over as Commissioner.

Check out these questions to these people:

View the written questions:
Questions to Acting Commissioner Pam Wheelock
Questions to Carolyn Ham
Questions to Chuck Johnson
Questions to Claire Wilson

It’s pretty obvious that these employees specialize in hiding information from taxpayers. It’s equally obvious that these employees think that they don’t answer to anyone.

Sen. Benson realizes that that’s a problem. That’s why she’s on a mission.

Just when you thought that things might return to normal at Minnesota’s Department of Human Services, another high-ranking official resigns. This resignation is different in that it’s the re-resignation of a former employee who returned to work only to resign again. Got all that? I didn’t think so. Suffice it to say that HHS is a department in disarray.

This article should help you figure out what’s going on:

Claire Wilson, deputy commissioner of the Department of Human Services, will leave the agency on Friday, according to an internal email sent to employees. Wilson, along with her fellow deputy commissioner Chuck Johnson, resigned last month from the agency but then rescinded their resignations after a new commissioner took over.

Acting DHS Commissioner Pam Wheelock convinced the two deputies to stay after Commissioner Tony Lourey and his chief of staff, Stacie Weeks, resigned. All of the leaders had resigned without public explanation.

I don’t have high hopes that this department will get fixed anytime soon, if at all. As I wrote here, the incoming commissioner seems to think that the Department is doing good work. It’s impossible to fix a problem until you admit that there’s a problem. Jodi Harpstead doesn’t think that there’s a problem.

I’m betting that Claire Wilson is thankful that Friday is her last day. With all the turmoil and controversy swirling around within the Department, I’m betting that she’d rather just move on.

I can’t blame her for wanting to leave.

At last week’s hearing about the crisis within the Minnesota Department of Human Services, it became instantly clear that transparency and cooperation weren’t priorities for top HHS officials:

To get the answers to those questions, Benson and Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, asked seven current and former top DHS brass to attend the hearing. They included Lourey and his chief of staff, Stacie Weeks; the on-leave inspector general, Carolyn Ham; acting inspector general Bob Jacobsen; and the two department deputies who resigned, then unresigned in the wake of Lourey’s departure: Claire Wilson and Chuck Johnson. But of those seven invitees, only one showed up: acting DHS Commissioner Pam Wheelock, who took the job July 15 and will relinquish it to new DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead on Sept. 3.

This was Gov. Walz’s equivalent of giving Sen. Benson the finger. While campaigning, Gov. Walz said that transparency and unity would be cornerstones of his administration. The evidence is now in. It proves that Gov. Walz doesn’t put a high priority on transparency, cooperation or unity.

Carolyn Ham, disgraced HHS IG
It figures that the only official that showed up is the person that’s leaving. That fits perfectly with the Walz administration’s governance-by-stiff-arm philosophy.

The lack of participation — and the subsequent paucity of new information revealed – was anticipated by Benson in her opening comments, in which she compared trying to get information out of the agency with the arcade game “Whack-a-Mole.” “Somehow the Legislature never gets direct answers,” Benson said. “It’s time for the shoulder-shrugging to stop. And for those who say it’s time to move on, that there’s nothing to see here, I can tell you it’s not time to move on; it is time to learn a lesson.”

If the DFL wants to offer nothing but silence on why there’s rampant fraud in several major programs, that’s their right — for the moment. Don’t be surprised if the DFL’s refusal to be transparent is turned into a potent campaign issue. If Minnesotans hope to determine why there’s rampant chaos within HHS, they’ll need to rely on Michelle Benson and Jim Abeler.

Jim Nobles is the other official who will get to the bottom of this. It won’t come from the Walz administration:

After 10 minutes of Wheelock going through slides describing the agency’s functions and beneficiaries, Benson interrupted.
“We sent a list of the topics we were interested in and so far you haven’t hit on any of those, and I am wondering when your presentation is going to get to those?” she asked.
“I’ll get to those very quickly,” Wheelock answered.
“I think now would be a good time,” Benson said.

As obvious as it is that Wheelock was stalling, that isn’t the galling part of her presentation. This is:

“At some point, we have to accept that these are personal choices,” she continued. “I have not found any issue about impropriety. I have not found any issue about any kind of criminal activity. There is no scandal. There is no chaos. I think it’s time to move on and let these people have some personal privacy and lives.”

Right. Toney Lourey accepted a government job that afforded him a annual pay raise of over $100,000 dollars, then abandons it 6 months later. That happens all the time. It’s virtually routine. Not. There’s no question that there’s a scandal here. Jim Nobles investigated the matter. He determined that there was rampant fraud.

If these DFL bureaucrats and DFL legislators want to say that there isn’t a scandal within HHS, that’s a fight Republicans should be thrilled to fight.

Anyone that thinks that the Minnesota Department of Human Services crisis will soon be a thing of the past is either delusional or they didn’t see Jodi Harpstead’s opening interview on Almanac Friday night. Fortunately for those that want to be well-informed but were otherwise detained, I DVRed the interview. This is that interview:

The first thing that Ms. Harpstead said is “Well, what I know first is that the people at the Department of Human Services are the same sort of caring and competent people that I work with at Lutheran Social Services.” When I think of Lutheran Social Services, aka LSS, caring and competent aren’t part of the list of nouns and adjectives I’d use to describe LSS. Unless there’s divine intervention at LSS and HHS, those words won’t become part of my list of nouns and adjectives describing those organizations.

When Eric Eskola asked Ms. Harpstead where the problem areas existed, Ms. Harpstead replied “Yeah, well, this year, there’s been a lot of change, a lot of public change, there’s been some morale issues and we need to get to work on all of that. When asked what was the first things she’d dive into, Ms. Harpstead replied “Well, the very first thing that I hope to bring is calm and healing and rebuilding teamwork among the people in the Department. They’ve been through a lot this year and they need to have a lot of that settle down so they can get back to their good and effective work.”

Notice that Ms. Harpstead didn’t mention a word about eliminating the corruption or fraud that Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles found. With Ms. Harpstead, it’s all about restoring morale to the workers. Up to this point in the interview, she hasn’t mentioned a word about eliminating the fraud and corruption identified within HHS. Pay attention to Ms. Harpstead’s underlying message. Hint: It doesn’t have anything to do with eliminating fraud or corruption.

Further, insisting that HHS has done “good and effective work” is like insisting that the Titanic didn’t sink that fast. Here’s more from the interview:

They’ve been through a lot this year. They’ve been through a lot of public scrutiny. There’s been all kinds of comments made about their work and we need to get past that and get back to the good work that they do. When asked about how she’ll deal with the “pretty low threshold” in terms of credibility, Ms. Harpstead replied “Well, first of all, I’d say that low credibility — I appreciate what you’re saying — has not been my experience working with the Department of Human Services and so I think we need to get in there and settle things down, get back to work and do the good work that the Department has always done and yet we still have to solve some of the problems that are there, move on from there and have the Department get back to the work it does.”

Later, Ms. Harpstead said that “The Department needs some space, though, to regroup and rebuild its teamwork to get back to its good work.” Please, someone on the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee that she isn’t walking into a smooth-running department with a reputation for integrity and excellence. She’s walking into a department in turmoil that’s known for “rampant fraud”, corruption and arrogance. They haven’t gotten this reputation by accident. They’ve earned this reputation.

Based on Ms. Harpstead’s statements, she seems oblivious to the things that need fixing. If she maintains that attitude, this crisis will get worse.

The forever-indispensable Harold Hamilton, aka Minnesota Watchdog, provided a ‘history lesson’ of sorts on HHS’s failings in his most recent commentary. In his commentary, Hamilton noted the following:

  1. October 2013: MNsure (Obamacare) web site launch failure. Ultimately, the web site would cost $190 million to get up and running.
  2. January 2016: A failure to properly determine eligibility for various programs results in at least $271 million in improper benefits being paid.
  3. July 2017: $7.7 million in fraudulent Medicaid payments discovered.
  4. April 2018: DHS writes off over $30 million in Minnesota Care premiums because of software problems.
  5. May 2018: The OLA reports significant problems with oversight of the DHS Childcare Assistance Program (CCAP). OLA noted, “DHS did not implement sufficient program integrity controls for licensing childcare providers and lacked some key controls to identify errors and to inhibit, track, and recover improper payments.”
  6. July 2018: Data breach at DHS exposes the personal data of 21,000 citizens.
  7. September 2018: Data breach at DHS exposes the personal data of 3,000 citizens.
  8. April 2019: Data breach at DHS exposes the personal data of 11,000 citizens.
  9. June 2019: Medical director at DHS demands more agency accountability measures – gets fired.
  10. July 2019: After placing the DHS Inspector General on investigatory leave, it’s revealed that the investigation has yet to even begin.
  11. July 2019: Top deputies resign.
  12. July 2019: DHS commissioner resigns after only months on the job.
  13. August 2019: DHS overpays two Indian tribes over $25 million, OLA starts investigation.

Think about all those crises. Then think about who was the person in charge of either the oversight of HHS or in charge of running HHS itself. The man’s name is Tony Lourey. First, he co-wrote the bill that created MNsure. Then he ignored the warning signs that the website wouldn’t run properly when it went live. Then he ignored Michelle Benson’s criticisms that MNsure needed legitimate oversight.

Meanwhile, the Dayton administration kept ignoring data breaches, most likely because they didn’t have the expertise required to fix these problems. In light of the Democrats’ failings, why should we have faith that the Department will suddenly get run smoothly? The truth is that the Party of Big Government, aka the DFL, aka Democrats, have a lengthy history of failing Minnesota’s taxpayers in terms of running government properly.

To be blunt, Tim Walz and Mark Dayton have failed the people. The people shouldn’t have trusted them whatsoever. Let’s forget their public personas. Let’s focus on their ineptitude instead. Let’s look at their handling of budget negotiations, too.

Dayton either shut down the government or he required a special session in 3 of his 4 budget sessions. In one of his budget sessions, he negotiated an entire week with Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk. They couldn’t reach a deal. The final Friday of the session, they sat down and put together a bipartisan budget deal in less than an hour. Then Dayton rejected it, taking the legislature into special session.

This year, Gov. Tim Walz insisted on a $12,000,000,000 tax increase over 4 years despite the fact that his own MMB director said that the state had a massive balance in the state’s Rainy Day Fund and that we were projected to run a surplus in excess of $1,000,000,000. Gov. Walz and the DFL House still insisted on the tax increase after it was announced that revenues were coming in faster than projected. Paul Gazelka ended the argument with this great chart:

Let’s be blunt about this. The DFL has caused one budget disaster after another. Even when money is pouring in, the DFL has insisted on taking a higher percentage of your paycheck. Once the GOP has forced some sensibility into the budgeting process and the budget is signed into law, Gov. Walz and the DFL insist on running 1 fraud-riddled program after another.

To top this off, the DFL specializes in thwarting transparency. Gov. Walz even picked an anti-transparency expert to run the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services, the most anti-transparency and fraud-riddled department in the state.

What part of this suggests competence? What part of this suggests that the DFL approves of transparency? Here’s a hint: none of this suggests that the DFL is competent. None of this information suggests that the DFL approves of transparency.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse within Minnesota’s Department of Health and Human Services, Gov. Tim Walz makes it much worse. Gov. Walz made the situation much worse by picking Jodi Harpstead to take over as commissioner of HHS in September.

Commissioner Harpstead is currently employed as the CEO of Lutheran Social Services, aka LSS. For the past 5+ years, LSS has specialized in the Refugee Resettlement program. That means that they’ve specialized in hiding important details about who was coming into Minnesota’s communities. This isn’t speculation. It’s well-documented fact.

When former City Councilman Jeff Johnson participated in a discussion on the refugee resettlement program, he expressed frustration with LSS:

To summarize that meeting, what I saw, four things were occurring. One, we have a nonprofit religious organization, OK, taking federal dollars, and they were pocketing approximately $1,000 per refugee. The allocation’s about 3,300 (dollars), but they got to keep about $1,000 per refugee, OK? They were not being transparent with the public, and it got to the point where they actually had a deputy at the door monitoring who was coming into the meetings. And I said you need to open up these meetings because you’re using federal dollars, you’re a nonprofit organization, and to me it was becoming apparent that they were acting like a for-profit corporation.

LSS was the volag running the meetings. Now, Gov. Walz has tapped the CEO of LSS to be the commissioner of HHS. Saying that HHS is embroiled in a crisis is understatement. Part of the crisis is rampant fraud within HHS.

When HHS Commissioner Tony Lourey abruptly resigned last month, he didn’t say why he was leaving, other than saying that the Department needed new leadership that he wasn’t capable of providing. The week prior to Lourey’s resignation, his 2 deputies resigned without an explanation. They’ve since returned to their positions.

If ever there was a department that needed a massive infusion of transparency, HHS is it. Hiring a woman whose current organization specializes in hiding things from government officials isn’t a first step towards building confidence with the public.

This hiring smacks of arrogance in the worst way. This is Gov. Walz’s attempt to stiff-arm the legislature, at least the part that gives a damn about providing oversight. (At this point, the DFL House isn’t interested in providing oversight.)

This week, Senate Republicans held a 3.5 hour-long oversight hearing into why “the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the White Earth Nation received $25.3 million in excess payments for medically assisted treatments covered through Medicaid over several years.” At the hearing, Committee Chair Michelle Benson said “The taxpayers didn’t make this mistake. They’re not the ones who used the judgment to cause the overpayments, why should they be held responsible?” She also said that “lawmakers shouldn’t have to allocate $25 million in additional funds to cover overpayments to two tribes.”

HHS needs a serious culture change. It’s questionable that Ms. Harpstead will provide that type of leadership. The organization she’s currently running specializes in secrecy and stiff-arming local politicians. That isn’t the reputation of a reformer. Make no mistake, either. HHS needs a reformation:

Other DHS employees or former employees shared with the committee their concerns about what they’d faced at the department. The former Medicaid program director told the panel bureaucrats in the department rejected advice from medical professionals and abruptly dismissed him in July.

And Faye Bernstein, a DHS compliance officer, said she was put on temporary leave when she raised concerns about compliance in state contracts. She was later allowed to return to her post and appeared Tuesday on a vacation day. She said she’d received notice ahead of the hearing that she could be terminated for her comments to lawmakers.

Think about that a minute. Bernstein was “put on temporary leave” because “she raised concerns about compliance” issues. If that isn’t proof that HHS needs a total reformation, then it’s hopeless.

The Senate has the constitutional responsibility of confirming commissioners. Unless Sen. Benson’s committee gets proof that Harpstead is serious about changing the culture at HHS, the Senate should reject her, then tell Gov. Walz that he needs to appoint someone who is committed to transparency and reformation.

Gov. Walz took time to visit the Vikings’ training facility. Apparently, he thinks that being the CEO of the state is a part-time responsibility. Thus far, he’s been a huge disappointment.