Archive for the ‘Michelle Benson’ Category

It isn’t a well-kept secret that the Minnesota Department of Human Services is in utter chaos. This is one of the biggest crises we’ve seen in Minnesota. And remember that Minnesota is the state that brought us such wonderful experiences as MNLARS, MNsure and the lesser-known MnChoices. But I digress.

Last week, senators learned from the “Legislative Auditor’s report” that “DHS staff can make decisions to spend Medicaid funds without review and approval from DHS officials who are responsible for the state’s Medicaid program. The agency also lacks a policy that requires that its various divisions, offices and units to obtain approval from Medicaid officials before making spending decisions.”

That isn’t the worst of it. Then there’s this:

The legislative auditor found, for instance, that the agency’s behavioral-health division had its own staff for setting payment rates and that it did not coordinate with the health care division, which actually oversees payments. Because DHS failed to establish uniform payment controls, the unauthorized payments to White Earth and Leech Lake continued for several years, the auditor’s report said.

That led to this:

The overpayments were for an unauthorized billing practice that enabled the bands to bill the Medicaid program an unusually high rate, $455 a day, for an anti-addiction medication, Suboxone, even when patients took the drug at home without interacting with a clinician. The payments continued over several years even though they were never authorized. A month after that billing error became public, the agency disclosed that it was ordered to repay $48 million to the federal government.

That’s quite a lovely little slush fund that the Tribes might operate. After all, the Tribes were responsible for billing “the Medicaid program an unusually high rate” of $455 per day. That’s a fund of $166,075 per year per patient. The report didn’t state how many patients used this program so let’s go with 25 patients per year. Potentially, that’s a nest-egg of over $4,000,000 a year. The report said that this practice lasted more than a decade. A dozen years of doing this might lead to a balance of almost $50,000,000.

Sen. Michelle Benson, the chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said “Your internal auditors do not appear to have taken internal controls seriously.” That’s quite the understatement. Apparently, DHS auditors weren’t the only government employees who didn’t take things seriously:

In its report, the legislative auditor found that no one at the agency documented the decision that allowed the Indian bands to bill the Medicaid program for self-administering drugs at home. The state’s failure to do so, the auditor’s office found, violated the Minnesota Official Records Act, which requires that state agencies preserve all records “necessary to a full and accurate knowledge” of their official activities.

“We continually asked, ‘What is the documentation? Do you know who made the decision?'” Nobles told legislators at Wednesday’s hearing. “… No one raised their hand and said, ‘I made the decision and I’m responsible.’ It’s disturbing that this could occur.”

I can’t picture this working:

To address the problems, she said a team of experts is coming together to identify the root cause of the overpayments and map out how decisions are made and by whom. She also has proposed a tighter process for documenting decisions. The changes, Harpstead said, will result in multiple layers of approval before Medicaid funds are disbursed — and a clear paper trail.

Instead of hiring a “team of experts”, why not hire a competent person with executive experience, then task that person with the responsibility of implementing clearly defined procedures for each of the tasks that agency is responsible for? Hiring a team of experts might muddy things more than fix things. It’s better to hire one competent person, then give that person the authority to fix that agency. That’s because that person can’t pass the buck off when the problem isn’t fixed.

This must be fixed ASAP. Too many Minnesota and federal tax dollars have gotten spent improperly. That needs to end immediately. The OLA should audit DHS again within the next 3-4 months to see whether Commissioner Harpstead’s new plan is fixing the problem.

Further, there’s a legislative component to this, too. What’s required is the ability to terminate incompetent or corrupt officials. Letting incompetent or corrupt officials collect like deadwood is likely how DHS slid into this crisis.

Last Thursday’s hearing of the Senate’s Health and Human Services committees elicited important testimony, although it’s impossible to picture it having been pleasing. Michelle Benson is taking a trust-but-verify attitude towards Health and Human Services:

“For the most part, Commissioner Harpstead said all the right things in yesterday’s hearing,” said Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake), chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee. “Acknowledging they made errors and need to clean up their processes is an important step. One issue on which I will continue to demand a straightforward answer, however, is what will happen when the federal government asks Minnesota to return the $29 million in overpayments. Will DHS attempt to bury it in a forecast adjustment? Or will they be open and upfront? If it’s the former, I will have serious problems. I will be watching carefully to make sure they follow through on their promises and their accounting for these illegal payments is transparent.”

Sen. Benson didn’t pull punches:

Yesterday, Benson indicated major cultural changes need to happen at DHS. “If you want to know how much bureaucracy and unaccountability costs state government, look no further than DHS,” she said. “Several levels of management were either too incompetent or too indifferent to check for and identify obviously erroneous payments.” The OLA report yesterday indicated that no one in DHS has taken responsibility for the overpayments, and there is no documentation to determine who made the decision for the higher payment structure to the tribes. “There are six managers between the Opioid Treatment Authority Representative and the Commissioner,” Benson continued. “All of them failed—miserably. If none of them are going to take responsibility, none of them should keep their jobs.”

This is what happens when the people don’t care because it isn’t their money. It’s either corruption or incompetence or both. How do 6 managers not catch this simple mistake? This isn’t just about restructuring of DHS. It’s about getting rid of these potentially incompetent, corrupt employees. You’ll be shocked at Jim Nobles’ statement 4:20 into this video:

The standard payment for these opioid addiction programs is $455 when the patient visits the clinic and receives a dose of whatever medication they’re taking. According to Mr. Nobles’ testimony, there isn’t supposed to be a payment if the medication is self-administered at home. Mr. Nobles said that $455 was paid to the White Earth and Leech Lake tribes when patients self-administered their medication.

When the patient visits the clinic, then gets a dose of medication, that’s called the “encounter rate.” DHS kept paying the White Earth and Leech Lake tribes the encounter rate even when the patient self-administered. It isn’t surprising that these tribes refused to answer Mr. Nobles’ auditors’ questions when they did their audit. Further, DHS employees wouldn’t cooperate either.

The tribes have issued a statement saying that they won’t pay back any of the money because it wasn’t their fault. Knowingly accepting money that isn’t due to the tribes is certainly their fault. That being said, there’s no doubt that DHS is at fault, too. They’re the ones who made the allegedly unjustified payments. Nobles testified that “In fact, the tribes were told by officials at the Department of Human Services that they could receive those payments. That was direction and guidance that the Department gave.”

There’s no question that the tribes received a ton of money from this federal program. What isn’t known is who authorized the improper payments. If nobody at DHS admits who authorized the improper payments, that entire group of managers should get terminated. They didn’t have the statutory authority to approve those payments. If there wasn’t a clinic visit, there shouldn’t have been a payment. That isn’t difficult to figure out.

Friday night, Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles was interviewed by TPT’s David Gillette and Cathy Wurzer. During the interview, Nobles explained what his team had found. After that, he was asked if the department needed to be broken up. What Nobles said next should catch everyone’s attention. He said that “there’s this picture of me holding this organization chart of this one slice of DHS down to where the decisions seem to be made about this and yet there’s layer after layer after layer after layer of supervision and management that let this go on year after year after year until it’s been disclosed and we have a huge problem to unravel and resolve.”

It appears as though the problem was caused by DHS. Further, it’s clear that clearly-written rules weren’t followed. Nobles explained that “what we’re talking about is paying a very high rate of $455 for somebody to take a pill at home. It’s called an encounter rate and it’s called an encounter rate — and this is the DHS policy — because there’s supposed to be an interaction between a health professional and a patient. That doesn’t happen when you open your medicine cabinet, pull out the bottle of medicine and take the tablet and yet, they on paying $455 every time a client was doing that. That should have been obvious to many people in that chain of command that that was not a proper payment but it went on for years.”

Though you will get upset, it’s important for you to watch the entire interview:

It shouldn’t require a rocket scientist to figure out whether a patient is taking the medication at home or whether that patient saw a physician. More than anything else, this sounds like a racket. How can a team of supervisors and managers not spot something that noticeable? What’s most disturbing is the fact that this isn’t the first time that we’ve detected DHS mismanagement:

Over a decade ago, and without authority, DHS officials decided that it would pay opioid treatment providers when their clients took medication at home. A few years later, and again without authority, DHS officials decided it would pay tribal opioid treatment providers the Indian Health Service (IHS) encounter rate when their clients took medication at home.

The fact that people did the same thing a decade earlier indicates that the problem is more personnel-centric than anything. This sort of thing shouldn’t happen. Everyone in that chain of command should be terminated immediately. The definition of supervise is “to oversee (a process, work, workers, etc.) during execution or performance; superintend; have the oversight and direction of.” There’s no sense in sugarcoating what happened. This group of supervisors and managers didn’t do their jobs:

Who made the decisions, why and when is not clear because DHS officials never documented their decisions. Even during the interviews we conducted, DHS officials could not recall who was responsible. In addition, none of the DHS officials we interviewed could offer a credible rationale for paying health care providers for their clients taking medications at home.

This isn’t a matter of breaking up DHS. It’s a matter of insisting the people doing their jobs. If the employees, at whatever level, won’t do their jobs, they need to get terminated.

Splitting up DHS might be needed. It might not. To me, that’s a separate issue. If employees don’t do their jobs, then it won’t matter if DHS is split up. Firing employees who don’t do their jobs is essential. If government employees won’t do their jobs, then it’ll require privatizing the employees.

Jim Nobles’ special investigation report highlights how lax the oversight of the Department of Human Services has been. It also highlights the corruption within the Department:

Over a decade ago, and without authority, DHS officials decided that it would pay opioid treatment providers when their clients took medication at home.

A few years later, and again without authority, DHS officials decided it would pay tribal opioid treatment providers the Indian Health Service (IHS) encounter rate when their clients took medication at home. That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Here’s more:

Who made the decisions, why, and when is not clear because DHS officials never documented their decisions. Even during the interviews we conducted, DHS officials could not recall who was responsible. In addition, none of the DHS officials we interviewed could offer a credible rationale for paying health care providers for their clients taking medications at home.

Frankly, all of the people involved with this corruption should be terminated immediately. They’ve proven that they aren’t people of integrity, which is a requisite for the position. If they can’t be trusted, they shouldn’t be employed. Period.

On February 12, 2019, a representative of the Red Lake Nation e-mailed a DHS opioid treatment expert to find out if Red Lake’s opioid addiction treatment program could receive the IHS encounter rate for days when clients took treatment medications at home. Red Lake already operated an opioid addiction treatment program, but it had not given its clients treatment medication to take at home.

The DHS expert told Red Lake “yes”; Red Lake would be able to receive the encounter rate when clients took treatment medication at home. But another DHS official copied on the e-mail told Red Lake to wait for an official response.

The department did not, however, issue an official response to Red Lake until May 1, 2019. In a letter to Red Lake, Leech Lake, and White Earth, the DHS commissioner reversed the department’s long-standing practice of paying tribes for their clients to self-administer treatment drugs at home. The commissioner told the tribal chairmen that DHS can only pay the IHS encounter rate when there is a face-to-face interaction between a client and a health care professional.

There’s no way it should take 11 weeks to respond to a question that simple.

Also on May 1, 2019, the department finally implemented a policy and a payment control that stopped the department from making payments to tribes when clients take medication at home. The department took another three months to inform the White Earth and Leech Lake tribes that they must return all of the payments their tribes received from DHS for clients self-administering medications at home.

Leaders of the White Earth Nation and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe have expressed frustration with how DHS has communicated with them about the overpayment issue. They have placed responsibility for the overpayments on DHS and questioned their obligation to repay the state. The state could face legal challenges in its efforts to require White Earth and Leech Lake to return the overpayments.

Republicans have ideas to reform Human Services. Unfortunately, the DFL is interested in reforms only if terrible employees are protected. That’s because the DFL is owned by the public employee unions. This corruption can’t continue.

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.

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.

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.

If Minnesota taxpayers aren’t outraged with the Tim Walz Department of Human Services lack of integrity, they will be when they read this:

Today Senator Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) renewed her call to split the Office of Inspector General into a separate department in light of the continued personnel and culture problems within DHS. Senate Republicans included the change in the Health and Human Services budget passed on May 1, 2019.

“Yesterday’s revelations that a whistle blower was escorted out of her office after emailing her concerns about the legality of government contracts is more evidence the culture at DHS needs to change,” said Sen. Benson. “The change should start with an independent OIG that is open to hearing fraud reports, pursues them without bias, and protects the people that report problems.”

“We proposed making the OIG independent and accountable to the Governor last session. During negotiations, House Democrats and the Governor’s office instead suggested a ‘Blue Ribbon Commission’ to cut costs. I appreciate the effort, but the Blue Ribbon Commission hasn’t been assembled yet and DHS is crumbling under the weight of poor leadership. We need real reforms, not just cost-saving measures, to change the culture and purpose of the agency from top-to-bottom,” Benson concluded.

Senate Republicans have established a website (www.mnsenaterepublicans.com/mnwhistleblower) for DHS and other state government whistleblowers to reports their concerns. “It’s clear leadership at DHS is not taking fraud or abuse seriously. We want all DHS and state agency employees to have a safe place to report their concerns. We will keep their complaints anonymous and pursue them with the full weight of the legislature to determine whether tax dollars are being wasted or abused.”

The current Inspector General, Carolyn Ham, remains on leave after the Legislative Auditor highlighted serious concerns with her management of the OIG. On Friday, July 12, Ham said her investigation was going to start today, July 23. The following Monday, the Governor contradicted Ham’s statement and said the investigation had already began. Senate Republicans have not been officially informed of when the investigation began and the public remains in the dark on the status of the investigation.

If Democrats don’t fix this crisis, they can kiss their House majority good-bye. Right now, it’s Gov. Walz and House Democrats that are obstructing real change. Sen. Benson and other reform-minded Republicans have proposed substantive changes. That leaves things in the DFL House’s lap.

The DFL’s proposed Blue Ribbon Commission is a joke, especially compared with the Senate GOP’s plan to making the Office of Inspector General independent of the Department they’re tasked to protect. If the DFL wants to stick with that position, that’s fine. It’s just that they’d better prepare to hand over their chairman’s gavels.

The fact that Gov. Walz hasn’t lifted a finger on starting the investigation into Carolyn Ham suggests that he’s disinterested in fixing the Department of Human Services. It might not hurt him politically but I’m betting that the MNGOP will tie his inaction and the DFL’s unseriousness around the DFL’s necks.

Anyone that thinks this Lourey resignation isn’t a big story is kidding themselves. This afternoon, Sen. Michelle Benson issued this statement regarding Commissioner Lourey’s resignation:

I want to thank Commissioner Lourey for his service to the state of Minnesota. Going forward, reform must be the top priority at DHS. Their technology is failing and costing too much. Their programs are filled with fraud and wasting taxpayers’ dollars. The new commissioner should examine DHS from the bottom up and prove they can meet basic benchmarks in their budget, program integrity, and technology.

This is further proof of what Republicans have been saying since the Walz administration began promoting ONECare, his massive public healthcare program – DHS is simply not able to take on a project of that scope and size.

It would be my recommendation that any future DHS commissioner focus on reform and accountability rather than new programs if they expect confirmation from the Senate. That’s exactly the right prescription for what’s ailing MN DHS. I’d also say that the Department is in turmoil but that’s too obvious. A 10-year-old could see that. Kurt Daudt issued this statement this morning:

The abrupt, unexplained departures of the top three officials at DHS in the past week is deeply troubling, and indicative of turmoil at our largest state agency. Minnesotans deserve answers and transparency from Governor Walz about what’s going on.

Lourey’s resignation is the latest in a major exodus of top leaders at the agency. Last week, Deputy Commissioners Chuck Johnson and Claire Wilson resigned unexpectedly without explanation from DHS. A former DHS Director, whose position was unexpectedly eliminated after 13 years in June, called for an investigation by the Walz administration citing “systemic issues with the leadership culture of the agency.'”

In the same statement, Daudt announced that “Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michelle Benson, who also serves as Chair of the Senate HHS Finance and Policy Committee, and Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria” would join him for “a noon press conference to discuss the latest developments at DHS.”

Rep. Franson is the leading authority in the House on child care issues. That leads me to think that this shake-up at Human Services is, at minimum, partially caused by the child care fraud investigation. Frankly, it sounds like Human Services is putting the fun out of dysfunctional. Starting with MNsure, then proceeding to the child care fraud investigation to the OneCare initiative, it’s difficult to point to a recent success story at the Department.

Saying that Daudt, Benson and Franson were upset is understatement. To say that they criticized Gov. Walz over these multiple scandals is understatement, too. The harshest criticism early in the press availability came from Kurt Daudt when he said that if Gov. Walz kept ignoring the problem, he’d own the problem. That’s exactly right.

Frankly, this isn’t how a major state agency should be run. The Human Services budget comprises approximately 40% of the state budget. If money is flying out the door as a result of fraud and the people running the department aren’t paying attention to what’s happening, then that’s a monstrous problem. It’s one thing if there’s fraud in one of the minor departments. It’s another when it’s a major part of the budget. That can’t happen.

Sen. Benson highlighted the fact that she chief-authored a bill that would’ve made the Inspector General’s Office a separate office. Republicans passed it in the Senate. According to Sen. Benson, the House DFL refused to move on it last session because the DFL is beholden to the public employees union that staff Human Services.

It’s also worth noting that the press covering the press availability tried their best to suggest that this wasn’t really a scandal, that it might just be 3 separate resignations that have nothing to do with the culture at Human Services. Frankly, it was pathetic watching them try to cover for the DFL.