Archive for the ‘Bureaucrats’ Category

It’s getting pretty disgusting within Minnesota’s Department of Human Services. A whistleblower was allegedly threatened by “a DHS employee then telephoned her last week to warn against testifying, even though she had taken a vacation day to speak to senators who are looking into wrongdoing at Minnesota’s biggest state agency. ‘The way that information was presented to me wasn’t threatening,’ Bernstein said. ‘However, the content, the words — saying that I could be discharged for this — that is threatening.'”

Things aren’t getting fixed, either, according to this article. According to the Pi-Press article, “the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said DHS used federal money to pay for treatment services at “institutions for mental diseases.” These institutions include hospitals, nursing homes or other facilities that have more than 16 beds and treat people with mental illness or chemical dependency. Federal Medicaid money generally cannot be used to cover treatment in these institutions.”

Then there’s this:

Minnesota will be on the hook for this amount plus another $25.3 million that DHS overpaid to two Native American tribes for substance abuse treatment covered under Medicaid. DHS wants the Indian bands to pay back the $25 million even though tribal leaders have produced emails in which the agency appeared to tell them to bill at a rate that caused the overpayments.

Do these people do anything right? The documented incompetence is stunning. Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Jim Nobles, Minnesota’s Legislative Auditor, “has launched an investigation of the overpayment issue. He told senators Tuesday that it would be a lengthy process.”

Nobles told legislators that “We cannot audit our way to good government.” Knowing Nobles’ well-documented habit for understatement, that’s a major slap in the face for DHS. That’s Nobles’ way of saying there’s a need for competence that isn’t there currently.

Still, threatening a whistleblower isn’t the type of thing that DHS should be doing. That’s far outside the lines of what’s allowed.

What could possibly go wrong?

Wheelock, who took charge of the agency in July after several top officials resigned, said an investigation against former Inspector General Carolyn Ham could wrap up soon. But she could not name the outside law firm conducting the investigation, how much the contract was worth, or why Ham was under investigation.

How is the public supposed to have confidence in an investigation that’s confidential? Further, why should the public trust an investigation that’s conducted by a law firm that’s being kept confidential? Finally, why should anyone trust an investigation whose cost isn’t made public? DHS hasn’t banked much in the way of trust lately, with lately being defined in this instance as ‘anytime within the last 5-7 years of DFL control’.

I’d argue that these DFL employees are a rerun of the Keystone Cops if it wasn’t such an insult to the Keystone Cops.

More Democrats are calling for Gen. Shinseki’s resignation. Translation: Blah, blah…Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. We get it. Democrats are outraged, outraged I tell you, about the VA scandal.

Frankly, I don’t care that they’re expressing outrage, mostly because I’m thinking that it’s faux outrage. I don’t care that firing Gen. Shinseki won’t fix the VA’s problems, either, because that’s missing the point. The VA was a disaster before Gen. Shinseki was confirmed as the VA secretary.

Gen. Shinseki must go because he’s utterly incompetent. The situation got significantly worse during his watch. Gen. Shinseki has to go because he isn’t capable of fixing the problem. Whether you’re mad as hell or whether you’re mildly upset about the VA Crisis (Yes, it’s a crisis.) or whether you’ve barely noticed it, the point is that this crisis must get fixed ASAP. That’s because it’s immoral to let another vet die because of the government’s corruption and incompetence.

George Will took a big step in solving the VA’s crisis this past Sunday on Fox News Sunday:

Here’s Will’s complete response:

WILL: You solve that problem Republican in the following way. Kirsten says, look, Amtrak has trouble and so does U.S. Air. The difference is airlines, as a lot of them could tell you, go out of business. Amtrak is run by a government that prints money and therefore can never let Amtrak go out of business no matter how many billions it loses year after year after year. With the Republicans, it seems (ph), we should say is this — this weekend, Memorial Day weekend, Americans are here and there on the interstate system. When the government decided to build that, that the country needed it, it didn’t go into the highway building business. It didn’t start a federal highway construction company.

It dealt with the private sector. And it got done. They can do the same thing with this. There’s no reason in the world why, if I can use this word, it’s anathema to Democrats, give people vouchers to be redeemed in our private hospital system.

Gen. Shinseki is a genuine military hero. Unfortunately, he was also utterly unqualified to run the VA Department. The remedy that Will suggested just wasn’t used. It isn’t that Gen. Shinseki didn’t have the authority to send vets to private hospitals. He had that authority. He just didn’t use it.

Thanks to the corruption within the VA system that’s been exposed, I’d argue that it’s time to utilize that option far more frequently.

Democrats were late to this crisis. Now that they’re scrambling to look like they’re finally interested, they’re calling for Gen. Shinseki’s resignation. They’re right in that he needs to go. What’s irritating is that these senators think calling for Gen. Shinseki’s resignation will provide them with much-needed political cover. What’s disgusting is that they aren’t that interested in the solution.

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It’s fact that the vast majority of DFL legislators voted against creating the Sunset Commission. Now that the Sunset Commission has officially been signed into law, the question turns to whether DFL appointees will attempt to sabotage the Commission’s efforts.

That’s still to be determined but it’s safe to say that expectations aren’t high. According to this article, outsiders are already tamping down expectations:

But William Eggers, a corporate consultant who worked for a similar commission in Texas isn’t as optimistic. “Your chances of succeeding, I’m going to be frank with you, are not very high,” he said.

Eggers told the Minnesota Sunset Commission last month that similar efforts in several other states failed because they didn’t take their jobs seriously enough.

“The one thing I will guarantee you is that without resources from a staff perspective, this will not succeed.”

Hiring additional staff to work on a commission whose goal is to a) reduce the size of government and b) improve service levels is like hiring an atheist to give the Christmas message. There’s no questioning that there’s alot of work to this commission. There’s also no questioning the fact that they should be frugal.

No one on the board indicates whether they will recommend any cuts this year. But behind the scenes, agencies and their advocates have been working to make their case.

For example, people supporting the Council on Black Minnesotans sent an email calling on others to attend a Sunset Commission hearing to show support for the council. Rosella Collins-Puoch is the vice-chair of the Council on Black Minnesotans. She doesn’t think the Sunset Commission will try to eliminate her organization.

“People understand that communities of color still have many many challenges and there has to be some entities that ensure Africans and African Americans are treated equitably in the state of Minnesota,” Collins-Puoch said.

How many Minnesotans knew that there was a state government agency titled The Council on Black Minnesotans? I didn’t. Would it surprise you to find out that there are other state agencies for other minority groups? I don’t know that there are but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were.

If there are multiple agencies with the goal of aiding communities of color, do they share the same back-staff? That’s what Sen. Mike Parry wants to know:

Others, like Sen. Mike Parry,R-Waseca, said the Sunset Commission may look to consolidate agencies that are duplicating work. He said no agency should consider itself on the chopping block but said officials had better be prepared to answer how they’re spending public money.

“If they are out of the chute worried about not being in existence, that might lead some to believe that maybe they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. That’s why I’m hoping that all of the boards and agencies realize this is not and never was intended to be any kind of witch-hunt,” Parry said.

Minnesotans aren’t an ATM to be tapped whenever a legislator wants to pander to one organization or constituency group. I’m not arguing that creating the Council on Black Minnesotans was pandering, though I won’t rule that possibility out.

I’m simply saying that politicians have a habit of using other people’s money to pay off constituencies they’ll need for re-election. Having looked through a budget or two in my lifetime, I can state with 100% certainty that alot of these types of commissions, councils and agencies don’t appear to have meaningful responsibilities.

I can also state without hesitation that alot of these commissions, councils and agencies get created by stuffing them into omnibus spending bills.

Thanks to King Banaian’s legislation, we now have a mechanism to a) shine a spotlight on these agencies and b) recommend the elimination or reorganization of these agencies.

The question now remains is whether the DFL will work quietly to sabotage the Commission’s efforts. They can’t afford to look obstructionist but they can’t afford to alienate their special interest allies, either.

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When the special session ended early Wednesday morning, the GOP had a clear message for people. That message is that this year’s reforms were just a glimpse of their reform agenda. In the words of Rep. Mary Franson, Reform 2.0 is the next step for Republicans. Based on this YTE from Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Dave Olson, it’s apparent that they’ll support much of the GOP’s reforms going forward:

Where do we go from here?

  • Adopt priority-based budgeting: Evaluate each function or outcome of government by its results per dollar. Examine all public programs and services and stop simply building a budget based on past practices.
  • Implement the requested federal waivers in the Medicaid system.
  • Purchase services through competitive sourcing: Evaluate those commercial services performed by government agencies on the basis of efficiency and customer service. Let public employees compete with the private sector for providing those services.
  • Reform the prevailing wage law: The current calculation tends to increase taxpayer costs for state-funded projects.
  • Evaluate highway projects: Ensure the Department of Transportation has the management systems in place so taxpayers receive the greatest value for their transportation dollars.
  • Reform public employee compensation and benefits: These systems must align more closely with what is provided in the private sector.

All of these initiatives are important to the long-term health of Minnesota. That said, priority-based budgeting, implementing the Medicaid plan and reforming public employee pensions must be the highest of these priorities. I wrote in this post that the public employee pension fund is a ticking time bomb. I cited this information in the post:

As of June 30, 2009, the unfunded accrued liability for all state-local pension funds in Minnesota totaled $24.3 billion, according to LCPR, which is the difference between an accrued liability of $65.6 billion and current assets of $41.3 billion. Expressed another way, Minnesota’s funding ratio (assets as a percentage of liabilities) was 63.0 percent. LCPR actuaries also calculate unfunded accrued liability using an alternative approach, which reflects ups and downs in the investment markets. Adjusting for those ups and downs, an actuarial value of assets in Minnesota pension plans was placed at $50.2 billion as of June 30, 2009, which would have the effect of shrinking the unfunded accrued liability by about $9 billion. Using actuarial value of assets increases Minnesota’s funding ratio to 76.6 percent. However, others contend that the figure of $65.6 billion for “accrued liability” is understated. For example, state law requires actuaries to estimate an 8.5 percent annual return on pension investments. That number might sound high today, but LCPR cites data that illustrate annual return exceeded 8.5 percent for many years. According to one estimate, reported by the Minnesota Taxpayers Association (MTA), accrued liability would increase by about $1 billion if an 8.0 percent annual return were used. If a rate of 5 percent or 6 percent (a typical government bond rate) were chosen, unfunded liabilities would rise by about 30 percent, according to the MTA.

Anyone that thinks pension funds will earn 8.5% annually for each of the next 30 years isn’t thinking straight. That’s a pipedream wish. It isn’t reality. If the pensions continue to be funded at their current rate, Minnesota will need $1,000,000,000 per year to cover the unfunded liability owed to state employees. Obviously, it’s important to get that gap closed. If it isn’t closed, that will be tomorrow’s millstone just like Medicaid was this year’s millstone.

Budget experts have known for quite some time that Medicaid cripples state budgets by imposing an outdated program on states. What’s worse is that DC hasn’t listened to the great ideas the states have come up with to deal with Medicaid. Steve Gottwalt’s reforms will finally get implemented. That’s a big deal because the HHS budget was scheduled to grow by 22% this year. Thanks to Steve Gottwalt’s plan, that growth was trimmed to 11% this year and 6% the following biennium. That’s taking a big bite out of the structural deficit without raising taxes.

Finally, implementing priority-based budgeting is important because it forces bureaucrats to justify their spending rather than just count on automatic spending increases whether they’re needed or not. It’s lazy budgeting and it shouldn’t be tolerated. Bureaucrats shouldn’t get away with just determining who gets the spoils.

If they’re true public servants, they should determine whether the money is needed. They should determine whether parts of their office serve a purpose other than employing someone. For that matter, we need more public servants and fewer bureaucrats. Most importantly, we need more fresh, thoughtful reforms and fewer status quo policies from a decade ago. We can’t move forward without jettisoning the things that slow us down or impede progress.

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Friday night, Congressman Chip Cravaack addressed a gathering of the Beltrami County Republican Party, saying that the United States doesn’t have a taxing problem:

Federal spending has become “unsustainable and reckless,” he said. “We’ve got to quit spending money we don’t have.” Cravaack said he will continue to seek more and deeper cuts. “History has shown us that Washington spends too much, not that we are taxed too little.”

He said the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Obama Administration are out of control.

“But please note that, even though they keep on pushing to increase spending, I will not vote for anything that keeps spending this bloated, bureaucratic government.

The bottom line is that cuts need to be made and we need to continue finding savings where they can be found.”

Chip, a great place to start would be with the agencies listed in this GAO report. The replications, aka waste, found within that report are too numerous to list in this little post.

Suffice it to say that the report is 345 pages long, with page after page devoted to identifying duplicative agencies in multiple cabinet offices essentially doing the same thing.

When it was initially reported on TV, this GAO report was said to contain over a trillion dollars worth of wasteful spending over the next decade caused by replicative programs/agencies.

Having Chip in Washington, DC is such a bright change after years of Jim Oberstar’s pork-chasing days. Chip’s part of the solution to the problem that Jim Oberstar created.

I think that’s why Chip got this introduction:

In introducing Cravaack as the keynote speaker Friday night, Ken Cobb, president of the Beltrami County Republicans, said that when President Barack Obama took office, it seemed there wasn’t much of a light at the end of the tunnel.

But in March 2009, the Tea Party started up, and there was a glimmer of hope, he said.

In January 2010, Cobb met Cravaack for the first time at a meeting in Bemidji.

“I was instantly impressed. I told him that he sounded like a congressman to me, a good one” he said. “That glimmer began to grow a little bit more. People started talking about taking back the U.S. House of Representatives.”

And on election night in 2010, “at 3:40 in the morning, Chip Cravaack stood up and said ‘We did it.’”

“The U.S. House of Representatives, they are the light at the end of the tunnel, and they are the beginning of bring America back the way it needs to go,” Cobb said.

Hopefully, we’ll add more bright stars like Chip to the House of Representatives in 2012. It’ll require alot of work but the rewards will likely be immediate and substantial.

By the way, the overlap and replication impact people’s lives:

For more than a decade, GAO has reported on the fragmented nature of federal food safety oversight. The 2010 nationwide recall of more than 500 million eggs due to Salmonella contamination highlights this fragmentation. FDA is generally responsible for ensuring that shell eggs, including eggs at farms such as those where the outbreak occurred, are safe, wholesome, and properly labeled and FSIS is responsible for the safety of eggs processed into egg products.

In addition, while USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service sets quality and grade standards for the eggs, such as Grade A, it does not test the eggs for microbes such as Salmonella. Further, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service helps ensure the health of the young chicks that are supplied to egg farms, but FDA oversees the safety of the feed they eat.

Oversight is also fragmented in other areas of the food safety system. For example, the 2008 Farm Bill assigned USDA responsibility for catfish, thus splitting seafood oversight between USDA and FDA. In September 2009, GAO also identified gaps in food safety agencies’ enforcement and collaboration on imported food. Specifically, the import screening system used by the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not notify FDA’s or FSIS’s systems when imported food shipments arrive at U.S. ports.

Without access to time-of-arrival information, FDA and FSIS may not know when shipments that require examinations arrive at the port, which could increase the risk that unsafe food could enter U.S. commerce. GAO recommended that the CBP Commissioner ensure that CBP’s new screening system communicates time-of-arrival information to FDA’s and FSIS’s screening systems and GAO continues to monitor their actions.

It’s appalling that CBP and other oversight agencies contribute to safety risks rather than eliminate them. That’s totally unacceptable.

Congress needs to pass legislation that eliminates this replication as quickly as is humanly possible. If the bureacracies drag their feet while insisting that they’re going as fast as they can, then that bureaucracy should be eliminated immediately and their responsibility moved into a previously overlapping agency ASAP.

Keeping Chip in Congress is vital to getting these bureaucracies cut down to size. That certainly won’t happen with a progressive like Tarryl Clark in office because she’s committed to protecting union workers.

Eliminating agencies and reducing the number of inspectors by eliminating responsibility overlap means fewer campaign contributions for Democrats. Anyone thinking that Democrats will vote for that type of sweeping government reform isn’t just naive. They’re ignoring reality.

I can’t say that Chip is THE light at the end of the tunnel. What I can say, though, is that Chip is part of the solution.

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Thursday afternoon, I interviewed Rep. Michele Bachmann about H.R. 4173, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009. One of the first points Rep. Bachmann made was that it centered too much power in the executive branch.

According to the legislation’s language in Section 1101, the “Council and the Board are authorized to receive, and may request the production of, any data or information from members of the Council, as necessary (1) to monitor the financial services market place to identify potential threats to the stability of the United States financial system.” The “Council and Board” are allowed to demand information from financial instituions without getting a search warrant.

When I asked whether this might constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment, Rep. Bachmann said that it might indeed constitute a violation of a company’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Rep. Bachmann also pointed out that this legislation would codify into law a bailout clause. She pointed me towards a document that the House GOP leadership put together titled “10 Reasons to Oppose H.R. 4173.” That document quotes Rep. Brad Sherman, (D-Calif.), as saying this:

The bill establishes a permanent bailout authority or, as Rep. Brad Sherman (DCA) described it, “TARP on steroids.”

In other words, this legislation authorizes the president to spend money without going through the appropriations phase. That means that it eliminates Congress from debating the merits of whether the money should be spent. That should bother people immensely considering how irresponsible this administration is with its spending.

Rep. Bachmann said that this bill worries her more than any other bill she’s fought against, “including the national energy tax and health care.” That statement stunned me more than a little because I’ve seen how hard Rep. Bachmann has fought against the national energy tax and against Pelosicare.

The reason for Rep. Bachmann’s worries are legitimate. She’s worried about how much authority this legislation puts into the executive branch’s hands. She said she’s also worried about foundational constitutional principles that aren’t being taken into consideration. In addition to the possible Fourth Amendment issues, the bill also ignores the principle of checks and balances. Unquestionably, that’s part of the foundation that our Constitution is built on.

Despite all the worries Rep. Bachmann has about H.R. 4173, she remains encouraged that people are waking up to the threat posed by this administration’s trampling of the Constitution.

Last weekend, Rep. Bachmann held her annual Christmas Party here in St. Cloud. During her brief presentation, she spoke about how encouraged she was by what she called the formation of “a liberty coalition.” By that, Rep. Bachmann said that people of all political stripes are waking up to the fact that it isn’t ok to write laws that ignore the Constitution’s foundational principles. She noted that people of all political stripes don’t want too much power given to the executive branch.

As a result of this administration’s overreach, people are understanding why we need to adhere to the wisdom of the Constitution and our Founding Fathers.

On another note, Rep. Bachmann said that the administration is selling the health care legislation by saying that they have to pass the bill or else their base will abandon them, which will lead to their defeat. (It’s important that I make clear that the reference to the elections was done in the context that that’s how Democrats were selling health care. At no point did we talk election strategy or using the issue for political advantage.)

I interjected into the conversation that they’re doomed if they pass this bill because independents are breaking against Democrats because they’re spending too much and because people are rejecting the Democrats’ health care legislation by wide margins:

Congress is working nights and weekends to pass legislation that Americans don’t like, according to a Fox News poll released Thursday. A majority, 57 percent, oppose the health care reform legislation being considered right now. About a third of Americans, 34 percent, favor the reforms.

I consider this to be proof that people nationwide are worried about the level of spending that’s happening and their worries about the Democrats’ health care legislation.

Check back to this blog next week for a new series that I’m researching. The series will be about H.R. 4173, going through it section-by-section to provide you with the specific provisions to the bill that either concentrate too much authority in the executive branch or that ignore constitutional protections or that don’t have the proper checks and balances codified into the legislation. (HINT: I just started and I’ve already found more provisions that I find troublesome.)

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

Friday afternoon, I came face-to-face with the reason we should reject government-run health care. First, a little background is needed. I buy my insurance through the state of Minnesota. Because I’m considered part of the working poor, part of my insurance premiums are subsidized. Because of that, I’m required to submit information on how much money I’ve made over the previous 12 months. It’s important that you know that I’ve submitted that information with plenty of time to spare.

Friday, I got a notice that my policy would be cancelec if I didn’t supply them with this routine financial information. I immediately called the toll-free number, where I spent the next 10 minutes dealing with the touch-tone part. Then I was relegated to waiting another 5-10 minutes to talk with a representative. Mind you, this isn’t the bad part of the experience. This is nothing compared with what happened next.

When I finally got a representative, he brought up my file to see why I’d gotten this notice. He said that a case worker had a question about my paperwork so the case worker asked a superviser for their opinion and that the superviser said that my paperwork was incomplete.

I told the representative what I’d sent in and that it’s the same information that I’d sent in last September. What the representative said next got my blood boiling. He said “Well, everybody does things differently.” He then tried glossing over that part but I told him to stop right there. He continued to try talking over me but I wouldn’t let him off the hook.

When he stopped speaking, I said that that response was unacceptable, that I’d either complied with the law or I didn’t and that there wasn’t any gray area on that. The representative then repeated that “Everybody does things differently.” I didn’t let that slip, either, saying that there can’t be consistent compliance with the law if everyone does things differently.

Here’s the worst part: After confronting him on this, THE BUREAUCRAT HUNG UP ON ME!!!

At that point, I was so furious that I could’ve spit pole barn spikes through a brick wall at 100 paces. My first instinct was to call my adopted state representative, Steve Gottwalt. When I told Steve what had happened and what was said, his reaction was similar to mine, saying that the law is the law and that it’s clear on what’s required. He agreed with me that the law must be applied evenly or it’s meaningless.

Steve further said that bureaucrats don’t have the authority to ignore the laws’ specific provisions, that they aren’t suggestions of guidelines but actually are the law. Steve then said that I should call back in and request to speak with a superviser and to tell the superviser what had just happened.

When I called the number again and requested to speak with a superviser, I was connected with a woman named Nekheti. She couldn’t have been more professional. I explained what’d been said. She immediately apologized for the representative’s behavior, then she looked into how the problem could be resolved. Once we got to that stage, it literally took less than 3 minutes to solve the problem.

The problem that I see with how this was handled initially is what every American should be worried about. The law, which Steve is familiar with, was written very clearly. It isn’t difficult to know what’s expected. Despite the clarity of Minnesota’s law, the person handling the application still got it wrong, who then talked with a superviser who got it wrong, too.

We shouldn’t tolerate faceless bureaucrats dictating what’s acceptable and what isn’t. After all, THEY WORK FOR US!!! They don’t get to make up the rules. That’s the legislature’s job. The bureaucrats’ job is to verify that the laws are being obeyed. Nothing more, nothing less.

What’s most offensive is that the bureaucrat that I spoke with seemed offended when I told him that. That bureaucrat’s attitude was “Who do you think you are telling me how to do my job?”

I’m your boss!!! You work for me and the people of the state of Minnesota. Your job is to obey the law, not do whatever you think is right.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative