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A company holding two state contracts worth $32.8 million was the lead IT contractor of the ill-fated Affordable Health Care enrollment web page rollout late last year, LouisianaVoice has learned.

CGI Technologies and Solutions, headquartered in Quebec Province, has experienced problems with other contracts in Canada and the U.S. even before the Obamacare debacle.

The largest tech firm in Canada, CGI also has offices in the Washington, D.C. area—Fairfax and Manassas, VA., Washington and Baltimore, and is part of the CGI Group which has 72,000 employees in 400 offices worldwide—many of those in India.

CGI Technologies and Solutions was awarded a $32.5 million contract with the Office of Community Development’s (OCD) Disaster Recovery Unit (DRU) on March 2, 2012 to provide computer software hosting, support and training for OCD’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), small rental programs.

That contract is scheduled to run out on March 1, 2015.

CGI also has a $300,000 contract with the Office of Information Services to provide technical support for the Division of Administration’s (DOA) advanced financial system (AFS). That contract is set to expire on June 30.

The state also has a $20 million contract with Hunt Guillot & Associates of Ruston through OCD and DRU for grant management activities for infrastructure and other projects undertaken as a result of damages resulting from hurricanes Katrina, Rita in 2005 and Gustav and Ike in 2008.

The Hunt, Guillot contract was first issued for $18.2 million on Oct. 31, 2007—just 10 months after Gov. Bobby Jindal took office, and called for the firm to work in program design, the pre-application and application process, pre-construction and construction of projects related to hurricane recovery. That contract expired on Oct. 30, 2010, but the company was awarded a subsequent contract of $1 million on Dec. 1, 2009 which called for it to review applications for grant funds pursuant to the hazard mitigation grant.

It was not immediately clear how much, if any, overlap there might be between the CGI and Hunt, Guillot contracts, if one was intended to augment the other, or if the two are completely separate, unrelated contracts.

What is clear is that in April of 2013, less than a year ago, the Legislative Auditor issued a report which indicated the state could be on the hook for a minimum of $116 million and possibly as much as $600 million in improperly received or misspent disaster aid following Katrina and Rita.

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/04/louisiana_on_for_misspent_road.html.

State auditors reviewed 24 loans to property owners through the state’s Small Rental Property Program. The state had allocated $663 million to the program and of the 24 cases reviewed, none had been flagged as problematic by OCD. Though only 24 cases were reviewed, more than 8,000 properties benefitted from the assistance program—increasing the likelihood that the total number and amount of improper payments could go significantly higher.

OCD Executive Director Patrick Forbes said rather than attempt to chase down homeowners to retrieve the misspent funds, he intends to change OCD regulations to provide more assistance to homeowners before “triggering the recapture of funds.”

Despite that statement of intent, a month after that audit report, on May 21, the administration issued a $600,000 contract to the Baton Rouge law firm of Shows, Cali & Walsh to “review and analyze Road Home files for overpayments, ineligible grantees, etc., (and to) negotiate and collect funds due to the state.”

Shows, Cali & Wash, meanwhile, has its own problems stemming from a federal judge’s findings that it manipulated evidence in a federal lawsuit by three death row inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/01/03/baton-rouge-law-firm-with-3-million-in-state-contracts-faces-legal-sanctions-over-evidence-manipulation-in-angola-lawsuit/.

Meanwhile, the ObamaCare project—healthcare.com—disaster appears to have had caused a negative impact on employee morale at CGI, according to a staff worker who asked not to be identified. “There’s a lot of frustration,” he said. “People are getting sick, fainting in conference calls.”

Employee turnover is said to be high at CGI, making matters more complicated when trying to assemble a web page for the health-care exchange. Despite that, the upper management mentality at CGI appears to work toward establishing relations “so intimate with the client that decoupling becomes almost impossible,” according to one company profile. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/10/16/meet-cgi-federal-the-company-behind-the-botched-launch-of-healthcare-gov/.

CGI was hired by the Hawaii Health Connector, that state’s new health exchange for providing insurance options under ObamaCare, to build its website and the state portal, like HealthCare.gov, had immediate problems when it launched on Oct. 1, 2013. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/10/23/red-flags-company-behind-obamacare-site-has-checkered-past/.

“The morning I heard CGI was behind (the Obamacare web page development), I said, ‘My God, no wonder that thing doesn’t work,’” said James Bagnola, a Texas corporate consultant who was hired by the Hawaii Department of Taxation in 2008. “The system is broken all the time.” Bagnola said CGI was able to continue work on the Hawaii project despite repeated managerial complaints and a “corrosive environment” in which state employees felt pitted against CGI staff.

CGI’s contract to design and execute a new $46.2 million diabetes registry for eHealth Ontario, part of the Canadian government health care system, was canceled in September of 2012 after a series of delays that rendered the system obsolete.

The state of Vermont as recently as last October, meanwhile, was considering whether or not to penalize CGI for not meeting deadlines for designing and producing that state’s health care exchange as per an $84 million contract with the company.

It may be too early to say that there is an “ominous pattern” of inferior work product from CGI as claimed by some http://www.examiner.com/article/is-cgi-and-white-house-liable-for-obamacare-massive-site-failure and http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/fobbs/131028 but there can be no denial that the failed debut of the ObamaCare web page has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Which raises the obvious question: What quality of work Louisiana is receiving from the firm? Considering last April’s findings of the Legislative Auditor in its examination of the Road Home program, that’s a fair question.

Contractors are being paid tens of millions of dollars to provide oversight of the grant programs in the hurricane recovery efforts. But what oversight is being provided of the contractors themselves? And if the contractors need oversight, why are they even in the equation to begin with?

How do we know they are doing the jobs they are being paid to do?

If we are to believe the auditor’s report, they well may not be giving the state a return on its dollar.

Are contracts simply being doled out by the Jindal administration with little or no vetting? When one looks at some of the other contracts awarded since 2008, there seems to be ample cause for concern.

All one has to do is study the administration’s smarmy record of questionable contracts, beginning with the hiring of Goldman Sachs to help write the request for proposals (RFP) for the privatization of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB). Who was the sole bidder on that project at the outset before the project was re-bid? Goldman Sachs. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/12/01/jindal-and-rainwater-preoccupied-with-ogb-privatization-missed-or-chose-to-ignore-obvious-cnsi-contract-red-flags/

And then there was the infamous contract with CNSI http://www.frontpagemag.com/2013/volpe/billionaire-swindlers-line-up-for-obamacare/

and the ensuing investigation by the FBI  http://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/fbireportscnsi3.pdf

http://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/dt-common-streams-streamserver1.pdf and the Louisiana Attorney General’s office http://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/ldoj-interview-report-on-cnsi-from-0514121.pdf

There also is a series of contracts with Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), since absorbed by Xerox. ACS, once represented by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy’s sister-in-law Jan Cassidy who now works for the Division of Administration (DOA) as Assistant Commissioner in Procurement and Technology at an annual salary of $150,000). http://www.linkedin.com/pub/jan-cassidy/6/4aa/703

ACS also has its own string of problems as evidenced by stories from other states http://louisianavoice.com/2013/03/15/doa-hires-jan-cassidy-sister-in-law-of-cong-bill-cassidy-at-150000-previous-employers-records-are-less-than-stellar/ and with the Securities Exchange Commission http://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2010/lr21643.htm

Not to be outdone, Deloitte Consulting which helped the state in planning for a comprehensive consolidation of information technology (IT) services for DOA, was named winner of the state contract for “Information Technology Planning and Management Support Services,” according to an email announcement that went out to IT employees last September.

Never mind the fact that Deloitte Consulting has experienced a multitude of problems in North Carolina, California, Tennessee, and Virginia because of delays, false starts and cost overruns. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/09/05/surprise-surprise-gomer-deloitte-wins-it-contract-after-spending-year-consulting-with-state-on-consolidation-plan/

And yet this governor is so unyielding in his misguided belief that the private sector can perform any and every governmental function better than public employees that now, six years into his eight-year term, he has decided pay yet another contractor, the international consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, $4 million to conduct an efficiency study to determine possible savings in state government.

Clueless, thy name is Jindal.

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Something’s not quite right over at the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC).

Conflicting dates of employment of an unclassified employee, the awarding of a contract to a vendor whose bid was nearly twice that of two competitors, and appearances on behalf of a state contractor at a Florida convention by a state legislator have flown under the radar until now.

Wes Hataway is Director of the Office of Workers Compensation Administration but the question is just when did he join LWC?

Department of Civil Service records and minutes of the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council simply do not match up.

Civil Service records indicate that Hataway was hired as an unclassified Assistant Attorney General on Jan. 25, 2010 at $93,600 per year and 13 months later, on Feb. 21, 2011, moved over to LWC as an unclassified Assistant Secretary to then advisory council Chairman Chris Broadwater at an annual salary of $105,000.

Here is what we received from the Department of Civil Service:

“See information below on Wes Hataway. Let me know if you have any questions or need more information.”

Begin Date End Date Agency Job Title Annual Pay Rate
1/25/2010 2/20/2011 Office of the Attorney   General Unclassified Asst Attorney   General 90,000.04 (begin)93,600.26 (end)
2/21/2011 Present LWC-Workforce Support &   Training Unclassified Assistant   Secretary 104,998.40

And indeed, there is a paper trail that appears to support that time frame. A two-page score sheet that evaluated proposals for a fraud detection contract with LWC dated June 22, 2010, includes the signature of Hataway and identifies him as one of the four-member team that evaluated and made recommendations for the contract. It also identifies him as representing the Attorney General’s Office—six months after he was ostensibly named as legal council for the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC).

(To enlarge, left click on image):

PTDC0124

PTDC0125

But another document dated Jan. 28, 2010, casts doubts as to Hataway’s status at LWC.

Minutes of the Jan. 28, 2010, meeting of the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council contain an entry on the fourth and final page which says, “Director Broadwater introduces newly hired AG attorney, Wes Hataway. Wes will serve as General Counsel, and also work on the prosecution of fraud cases.”

MinutesAdvisoryCouncilJan2810

Hataway has since replaced Broadwater as Director of OWC but he regularly consults with Broadwater on pending matters coming before him, according to court documents, according to legal documents.

Broadwater, a Republican from Hammond, was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 2011 but continues to represent workers’ comp insurance companies before the Office of Workers’ Compensation, the agency he once ran.

Broadwater also appeared in a four-minute video at an SAS Institute conference in Orlando, Florida. In that video, he praised the work of the company, which won that 2010 contract with a high bid of nearly $4.3 million.  http://www.allanalytics.com/video.asp?section_id=3427&doc_id=269491#msgs

The three-year contract, which was officially approved on Oct. 7, 2010 retroactive to Aug. 31, 2010, ended last Aug. 30.

The SAS bid was nearly double the bids of IBM and Ultix, each of whom had bids of $2.2 million.

Broadwater, Vice Chairman of the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, said in a letter to LouisianaVoice, “My service as vice chair of the Labor & Industrial Relations Committee in no manner alters my duties or the constraints placed upon me under the Code of Governmental Ethics.”

And while claiming that he is prohibited from receiving compensation “from a source other than the legislature for performing my public duties,” he admitted in a legal deposition that he represented insurance clients before OWC and he even admitted that he discussed with Hataway the pending appointment of his former law partner and that he has discussed with Hataway on several occasions matters pending before OWC.

Broadwater also related that Hataway had sought his advice on whether or not he (Hataway) had the authority as director to issue a stay of pending cases without involving the judges to whom the cases were assigned. Broad said in his deposition that he was of the opinion that Hataway did have such power.

Broadwater and Hataway are friends of long standing but that does little to explain why Broadwater would introduce him to council members as a new hire a full year before Civil Service Records and the RFP evaluation and recommendation form reflect any change from his employment status at the Attorney General’s office.

Calling the conflicting dates a clerical error doesn’t fly but then again, it could be just another aspect of the current administration that defies explanation.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal has this cool web page on which he is conscientious about posting the latest updates about all the wonderful things going on in Louisiana, thanks in large part to his diligent work on behalf of the state.

The web page, of course, has the requisite “donate” button on which to click to make contributions—ostensibly for his long-anticipated presidential campaign since his last run for governor was more than two years ago and he’s term limited from running again.

The web page is paid for by Friends of Bobby Jindal, Inc., AKA the Committee to Re-Elect Bobby Jindal, Inc. Records filed with the Secretary of State indicate the agent for the organization is David Woolridge of the law firm Roedel, Parsons, Koch, Blanche, Balhoff, and McCollister. Officers include Alexandra “Allee” Bautsch, finance director (also Jindal’s campaign finance director), deputy finance director Erin Riecke, and Melvin Kendal.

Strangely enough, even though Friends of Bobby Jindal solicits contributions through the web page, there apparently have been no campaign finance reports filed with the Louisiana Ethics Commissions. All contributions and expenditures are listed in Jindal’s name individually and not in Friends of Bobby Jindal or the Committee to Re-Elect Bobby Jindal.

You can check out his page right here  http://www.bobbyjindal.com/ to see glowing reports on the following projects:

  • The South African energy company Sasol’s integrated gas-to-liquids and chemicals project n Louisiana was named Foreign Direct Investment Deal of the Year (no mention of how many jobs that would actually produce for the state).
  • Industrial Valve Production Co. Cortec will build a new distribution facility in Louisiana which will create a whopping 70 jobs.
  • A New York Post editorial has praised Jindal for his efforts to crack down on abuse in the state’s food stamp program (abuse, by the way, which pales in comparisons to the costs of that CNSI contract with the Department of Health and Hospitals, corporate tax breaks and legislators recently exposed for using campaign funds to pay for private vehicles, auto insurance, and LSU football tickets).

And while we certainly appreciate his dedication to keeping us informed, we can’t help but notice that he missed a couple of recent developments. And because we’re here to help, we are more than happy to fill in the blanks so that you, the reader, may remain informed about our state.

  • Speaking of CNSI, writer Michael Volpe penned an interesting story on Friday, Nov. 22 when he wrote that CNSI, one of the subcontractors working on the Obamacare website, is currently under investigation by the FBI in Louisiana and is currently embroiled in legal disputes over services provided to the states of South Dakota, Illinois and Michigan. Jindal’s former DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein was formerly employed by CNSI and it has been revealed that he was in constant contact with company officials in the days leading up to its selection for the $800 million contract. http://dailycaller.com/2013/11/22/subcontractor-working-on-obamacare-site-under-fbi-investigation/
  • While Mississippi was chosen as assembly sites for Airbus Aircraft and Nissan and Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai have built assembly plants in Alabama, the five facilities employing thousands (compared to 70 for Industrial Valve Production Co. Cortec), GM closed its Shreveport truck assembly plant.
  • For anyone who has ever wondered what the job of the Louisiana Attorney General is, consider this: the Evangeline Parish Police Jury, obviously with little to do about road maintenance in Evangeline, has asked the AG’s office for a legal opinion as to whether or not a rooster is a chicken (brings to mind the story about the child asking his mother if chickens are born. “No, chickens are hatched from an egg,” his mother said. “Was I hatched from an egg?” “No, you were born.” “Are eggs born?” “No, eggs are laid.” “Are people laid?” “Some are; others are chicken.”). State law, it seems, prohibits staging fights between “any bird which is of the species Gallus gallus. Proponents of cockfighting maintain their birds are of a species other than Gallus gallus and the AG has been asked to weigh in on the matter. (Sigh.).
  • That sink hole in Assumption Parish continues to expand with no indication from the fourth floor of the State Capitol that there is any concern on the part of the governor for the plight of all those displaced residents.
  • Our friend Don Whittinghill, who provided us the information on the auto assembly plants in Mississippi and Alabama, also provided another interest tidbit missing from Jindal’s web page: Last year, 91,215 people moved to Louisiana while 95,958 left for greener pastures—a net loss of 4,741 people. This could be related to Louisiana’s construction job growth of 8.3 percent compared to a 19.1 percent gain by Mississippi.
  • Louisiana is ranked as the seventh-worst governed state in the nation, according to the financial news site 24/7 Wall Street. The survey’s results are based on financial data, services provided by the state and residents’ standard of living. The state’s budget deficit of 25.1 percent was the fourth largest in the nation, ranking behind (in order) New Jersey (37.5 percent), Nevada (37 percent), and California (27.8 percent). The national average budget gap was 15.5 percent. The percentage of citizens living below the poverty line (19.9 percent) was third highest, surpassed only by Mississippi (24.2 percent) and New Mexico (20.8 percent), and the state’s median household income of $42,944 was eighth lowest in the nation. Moreover, nearly 500 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012 made Louisiana one of the most dangerous states in which to live.

So, Governor, we know you are a busy man, flitting all over the country to appear on CNN and Faux News, writing all those provocative op-eds in the Washington Post about how all the other Republicans (except you, of course) are a bunch of children whose hand you feel compelled to hold while leading them out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land.

We know you have all you can do in your efforts to climb from the bottom of the pile of potential GOP presidential contenders and that your sending Timmy Teepell to help get Neil Riser elected to Congress kind of blew up in your face—like that governor’s race in Virginia.

So, we want you to know, we’ve got your back.

We promise to keep a dutiful watch on your web blog and when we discover an omission in your superb coverage of all that’s good and wonderful in this state, we’ll be sure and jump in and fill the gap.

That’s the least we can do.

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We’ve come across a few odds and ends lying around that we feel might warrant a second look.

Another take on blood tests and one-vehicle accidents

First we would like to acknowledge that we initially wrote a piece based on erroneous information from certain people whose judgment we trusted but who were wrong. Because of their advice, we also were wrong in saying that blood alcohol tests are “routine procedure” in one vehicle accidents. It turns out that is not the case and we respectfully defer to the state trooper who investigated Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s accident last week. The trooper said in his report that Caldwell did not appear to be impaired and accordingly, he did not take a blood sample for testing. We have been informed by State Police and others that it is not “routine procedure” to take blood tests in single-vehicle accidents.

ATC moves in with State Police, not so the ATC director

The Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control has been moved from its former headquarters at United Plaza on Essen Lane in Baton Rouge to the Louisiana State Police compound on Independence Boulevard, ostensibly to save money.

ATC Director Troy Hebert and his administrative assistant Jessica Starns, however, were allowed to remain at the United Plaza offices and to even rent additional space for Hebert’s office.

What’s with that? Shouldn’t an agency director be physically located at the same address as his employees and not several miles across town? That would be like having a governor who spends all his time in other states. Oh, wait. We already have that, don’t we?

Baton Rouge publisher opposes freedom of expression

Normally, a member of the Fourth Estate would be up in arms at any suggestion at muzzling a critic of government, a suggestion any publisher, editor of reporter would quickly point to as a threat to the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.

Such is not the case of one Baton Rouge publisher, we’re told. Reports have it that this publisher, a staunch supporter of Gov. Bobby Jindal, has gone on rampages in his office, ranting to his subordinates and anyone else who will listen that he wants Robert Mann stripped of his tenure at LSU—and fired.

Mann, who has worked with three U.S. senators (Russell Long, Bennett Johnston and John Breaux) and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, currently holds the Manship Chair in Journalism at the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU.

A journalist and political historian, Mann also just happens to author a controversial political blog called Something Like the Truth http://bobmannblog.com/ in which he generally takes the Jindal administration to task for its roughshod trampling of all who dare disagree with him, be they state civil service employees, doctors, college presidents or legislators.

Mann is careful to feature a prominent disclaimer which says, “Opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the author, not LSU, the Manship School nor the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs.”

But that apparently is not enough for this publisher, who dutifully prints every inane press release by the governor that purports to make the state look good despite reams of negative national surveys on poverty, obesity and health care.

So much for a fair and independent press serving as a watchdog on behalf of the citizenry. We’re just sayin’…

Cerise Memo: LSU Board quorum?

Remember our story last week about that July 2012 meeting in the LSU President’s conference room where former Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine pitched the privatization plan for LSU’s 10-hospital system?

There was a key sentence then-head of the LSU Health Care System Dr. Fred Cerise included in his memorialization of that meeting regarding Levine’s presentation:

“The LSU board members present indicated they want LSU’s management to pursue this strategy,” the Cerise Memo said.

But wait. The LSU Board of Supervisors consists of 15 voting members, all appointed by the governor, and one student member who has no vote.

The Louisiana Open Meetings Law, R.S. 42: 4.2, headed “Public policy for open meetings; liberal construction,” reads thusly:

  • “Meeting” means the convening of a quorum of a public body to deliberate or act on a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power. It shall also mean the convening of a quorum of a public body by the public body or by another public official to receive information regarding a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power.
  • “Public body” means village, town, and city governing authorities; parish governing authorities; school boards and boards of levee and port commissioners; boards of publicly operated utilities; planning, zoning, and airport commissions; and any other state, parish, municipal, or special district boards, commissions, or authorities, and those of any political subdivision thereof, where such body possesses policy making, advisory, or administrative functions, including any committee or subcommittee of any of these bodies enumerated in this paragraph.
  • “Quorum” means a simple majority of the total membership of a public body.

The statute further stipulates that “every meeting of any public body shall be open to the public unless closed pursuant to R.S. 42.6, R.S. 42:6.1 or R.S. 42:6.2.”

First of all, R.S. 42:6 clearly states that a public body “may hold executive session upon an affirmative vote …of two-thirds of its constituent members present.”

R.S. 42:6.1 simply lists the reasons an executive session may be held which you may explore in greater detail here: http://www.lawserver.com/law/state/louisiana/la-laws/louisiana_revised_statutes_42-6-1

R.S. 42:6.2, re-designated as R.S. 42:18 in 2010, applies only to the Legislature. http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/lss.asp?doc=99494

But let’s return to R.S. 42:4.2, that pesky little law about quorums.

Remember, the Cerise Memo said that the “LSU board members present” indicated their desire for the LSU administration to move forward with the Levine proposal.

Remember also, the LSU Board of Supervisors is comprised of 15 voting members.

But there were only four members of the LSU board present at that meeting, according to Cerise’s notes. They included Rolfe McCollister, Bobby Yarborough, Dr. John George and Scott Ballard.

Hardly a quorum.

But then, it was the likely intent of those present to avoid having a quorum because a quorum (eight voting members, in this case) would necessitate public notices of such a meeting and making said meeting open to the public.

Obviously, that was not the wish of the board members who did attend. They wanted, above all else, to avoid a full quorum so that the meeting could be conducted in secret.

If you check out our masthead, we recently added an anonymous quote:

  • It is understandable when a child is afraid of the dark but unforgivable when a man fears the light.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (Nov. 13, 1856-Oct. 5, 1941) is credited with coining the phrase, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

But in avoiding the necessity of opening up that July 17, 2012, meeting to the public by purposely skirting the requirement of a quorum so as not to qualify as an official meeting, those four board members were legally barred from taking any official action.

Yet, that minor point of law did little to deter them from directing the LSU administration to pursue Levine’s plan.

Yes, we are fully aware that the four board members not only spoke for the entire board but for Gov. Bobby Jindal as well. As Elliott Stonecipher recently noted in his blog Forward Now, state ethic laws prohibited Levine from conducting business with the State for two years after his departure as DHH Secretary. http://forward-now.com/?p=8403

Levine’s last day at DHH was July 16, 2010. The meeting at which he presented his plan to LSU administrators and board members was on July 17, 2012.

And we don’t believe in coincidences. And anyone who doesn’t believe Levine was in constant contact with the administration in the days, weeks and months leading up to that July 17 meeting is…well, a fool.

Such is the Gold Standard of Ethics that Jindal has bestowed upon the people of Louisiana.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal has inserted income from the privatization of public agencies that weren’t yet privatized in order to make the numbers in his Executive Budget more palatable to legislators.

He has included revenue from the sale of state buildings that were not yet sold—indeed, some of which came back with appraisals far below his projected sale price—in order to make that budget more realistic.

To be sure, he caught considerable flak from those fiscal hawks in the legislature for his repeated use of one-time money for recurring expenses—something by the way, he was openly critical of and which he vowed never to do during his 2007 gubernatorial campaign.

Now LouisianaVoice has learned that Jindal has apparently attempted to execute an end run around state contract attorneys and the attorney general’s office in an attempt to negotiate a settlement of an outstanding judgment in favor of the state against a major pharmaceutical company.

It should be noted here that any negotiations between parties in any litigation without involving attorneys would be considered a breach in legal ethics.

The object of Jindal’s efforts is to generate a quick up front settlement of $50 million in order that he might plug holes in the upcoming annual ritual of mid-year adjustments to the state budget, one observer said.

Fifty million? Pretty good windfall for the state, wouldn’t you say?

Not necessarily—not when you consider that the amount of the original judgment was $257 million.

That’s correct. Two hundred fifty million dollars. Plus $3 million in costs, plus another $70 million in attorney fees.

Attorney fees? Didn’t we say the attorney general’s office was involved in the litigation?

Well, yes, then-Attorney General Charles Foti initiated the lawsuit way back in 2004 in 27th Judicial District Court in St. Landry Parish but heavy hitters were needed in this matter so several outside firms were contracted to steer the litigation through the courts. Those included the firms of Kenneth DeJean of Lafayette, Robert Salim of Natchitoches and Bailey, Perrin & Bailey and Fibich, Hampton, both of Houston.

On the other side of the ball were lawyers from the firms of Irwin, Fritchie, Urquhart & Moore of New Orleans, Guglielmo, Lopez & Tuttle of Opelousas, Drinker, Biddle & Reath of Florham Park, N.J., and O’Melveny & Myers of Washington, D.C.

After six years of legal back and forth sparring, discovery, depositions and various other means of keeping attorneys’ meters running the matter finally went to trial Sept 28-30 and Oct. 12 and 14, 2010. When the dust had settled, the jury made a determination that the “aggressive marketing campaigns” of Janssen Pharmaceutical, a Johnson & Johnson company, had violated the Louisiana Medical Assistance Programs Integrity Law (MAPIL) no fewer than a whopping 35,542 times with each violation subject to a civil penalty of $7,250, bringing the total damages to $257,679,500.

(Don’t ask us what “aggressive marketing campaigns” were employed by Janssen or how they violated the state’s MAPIL; we’re not privy to that information. All we know is what we read in the Third Circuit Court of Appeal’s affirmation.)

Janssen, of course, appealed the award as anyone might expect, but the Third Circuit upheld the lower court judgment and Janssen has applied for writs to the Louisiana Supreme Court where the matter is now pending.

Nine years of judicial interest (6 percent per year in simple interest) brings the current total judgment to just a shade under $400 million.

So now we have Jindal who, in typical fashion, is attempting to patch anticipated budget holes with $50 million in one-time money—all the while throwing the state under the bus to the tune of nearly $350 million.

Several legal experts knowledgeable about the case say the State Supreme Court could conceivably reduce the attorney fees but that there is little chance that the $257 million award ($400 million with interest, remember) will be overturned—a fact that would make Jindal’s tactics even more underhanded.

And were it not for Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell, Jindal’s efforts may have succeeded, according to sources who told LouisianaVoice that Caldwell stepped in and shut down the negotiations.

Neither Caldwell nor this top assistant, Trey Phillips, returned telephone calls seeking comments on the matter.

Attempts were likewise made to contact several of the plaintiff attorneys who argued the case on the state’s behalf but all such attempts failed.

Any such settlement would necessarily negatively impact attorneys’ fees. Accordingly, it would be reasonable to expect a maelstrom of protests from the attorneys under contract to the state if they were aware of Jindal’s efforts.

LouisianaVoice also emailed Gov. Jindal’s office for a comment but received no response.

One person who did comment was Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell of Elm Grove in Bossier Parish.

“I was not aware of this,” he said, “but I certainly am not surprised. This is typical of this governor. He has complete and total contempt for the people of this state. It’s all about what he can do for little Bobby. He’s trying to settle this for about 13 cents on the dollar just so he can patch his budget deficit, the state be damned.”

Neither Johnson & Johnson nor Janssen has made any campaign contributions to Jindal since 2003 but six pharmaceutical companies contributed $34,500 to his campaigns in 2007 and 2008. One of those, Pfizer, Inc., of New York City, gave $15,000 in three separate contributions of $5,000 each while Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in Washington, D.C., made two contributions of $5,000 each in 2007 and 2008.

State campaign finance records also show that pharmaceutical companies contributed more than $400,000 to candidates for state offices, mostly legislators, since 2003. Those contributions were for both Republican and Democratic candidates. Again, it was Pfizer ($170,000) and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers ($150,000) that reported the bulk of those contributions.

Other contributors included Takeda Pharmaceuticals of Deerfield, IL, and Novartis Pharmaceuticals of East Hanover, N.J.

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The Faircloth Law Firm doesn’t even show as a blip on the Louisiana Office of Contractual Review’s (OCR) Top 50 list of legal contractors with the State of Louisiana for the Fiscal Year July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011.

Altogether, the top 50 contracts represent a combined total of $81.4 million, according to OCR’s list.

The list ranks state contracts from the largest—the Department of Justice (Louisiana Attorney General) at $18 million to number 50—the $276,000 contract of the New Orleans law firm of Vezina & Gattuso, but does not include Faircloth.

That’s because the Faircloth Law Firm received its payments in fiscal years 2012 and 2013 and did not show up on the FY-2011 list.

Most attorney contracts, with the exception of the Attorney General and public defender contracts, are awarded over a three-year period.

It should be noted that simply because a firm is awarded a contract of, say, $1.5 million, it does not necessarily reflect the actual amount paid the firm. Often, cases conclude long before the contracts are exhausted and in other cases, they extend beyond the financial terms of the dates of the contracts and must be amended or renewed.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Faircloth has received more than $1.1 million in contract work from various state agencies, which would put the firm about midway on the list of top 50 firms. Records provided by the Office of Risk Management (ORM) through the Division of Administration (DOA) show that the Faircloth firm was actually paid $931,000 in 2012 and 2013.

Most contracts awarded through ORM are done so at set hourly rates which are generally uniform from firm to firm, though there are exceptions where a firm will receive a contract with a higher per hour representation fee. And while LouisianaVoice was not provided with Faircloth’s hourly fee, it is assumed that it is higher than customary simply because he represented the governor’s office in several court cases, many of which he lost in the lower courts and in the appeals process.

More recently, the attorney general’s office has contracted Faircloth’s firm to represent the state in litigation against BP for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and is also represented the state in litigation by CNSI which was fired from its $200 million Medicaid contract with the Department of Health and Hospitals.

Those two cases alone are expected to reap an additional $675,000 in addition to the $1.1 million already paid but Faircloth downplays that amount as insignificant in the overall scheme of things.

“I know what we do is a pittance compared to how much gets contracted,” he said.

Oh, really?

Let’s compare.

With the $675,000 from CNSI and BP cases added to the $1.1 million already received, that’s almost $1.8 million total.

Of the 50 biggest legal contracts listed by OCR, only 10 were for more than $1.8 million and half of those were for either the attorney general’s office or four contracts of $5.1 million for the legal services for the defense of persons pursuing post-conviction relief of a capital conviction; $4 million for legal services for the Louisiana Public Defender Board and contracts for $2.1 million and $2 million for legal representation for capital cases where an ethical conflict in the representation of indigents is needed.

Faircloth denies that he is getting the lucrative contracts because of his ties to the governor as first his executive counsel and most recently as a member of the University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors.

Sean Lansing, a spokesman for Jindal first said the governor’s office doesn’t direct agencies to hire specific attorneys but later revised his statement when told that agency directors indicated that Jindal’s office had suggested hiring Faircloth in the past. “We have recommended Jimmy in certain circumstances because he is a great lawyer but at the end of the day, it is up to agency heads to decide on whom to hire.

“I don’t deny that I have the benefit of knowing all those folks,” Faircloth said of his connections to the governor’s office. “I would like to think that in my working with (state agencies), they would say, ‘Jimmy’s a very good lawyer. Let’s hire him.’

“I like to think I get the call because we give pretty good service,” he said.

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If one thinks we’re feeling a little smug right now or that we take any measure of self-satisfaction over the federal investigation at the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), or the no-show status of DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein before the House Appropriations Committee only days after the federal probe became public knowledge, or of Greenstein’s subsequent announcement that he will resign, effective May 1, then one would be wrong.

We take no pleasure in our native state’s once again having the harsh spotlight of official corruption shone upon it for the entire nation to see. We fail to share the self-righteous satisfaction of those who would smile condescendingly and nod and agree that despite the mantle of morality and ethics with which our governor has cloaked himself, nothing has really changed in Louisiana.

As soon as word of the U.S. Attorney’s investigation became public, we knew someone would be thrown under the bus by Jindal. That’s the way he operates. Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols sniffed indignantly that wrongdoing would not be tolerated by this administration as she quickly cancelled the $185 million contract with CNSI, Greenstein’s former employer.

In making that statement, did Nichols intend to admit that the administration may well be aware of legal wrongdoing? If so, why did it take so long? The federal subpoena for all records pertaining to the CNSI contract was served on the administration way back on Jan. 7 but the contract was not cancelled until March 21 and then only after the Baton Rouge Advocate broke the story of the investigation through public records requests for the subpoena.

That’s two and one-half months that the governor knew of the investigation and chose to do nothing until he was outed by the media. So much for the sanctimonious non-toleration of wrongdoing.

And now the governor’s office tries rather unconvincingly to tell us Greenstein was not asked to resign. Sorry, but we’re not buying it. Someone had to fall on his/her sword and the first domino to topple was Greenstein. There may well be others before this little matter is concluded.

Surely Jindal must realize that cancelling a suspect contract and forcing out the man who first made it possible for his old employer to even qualify to bid on it and then remained in constant contact with CNSI management during the selection process isn’t going to convince the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office to fold up their tents and go home.

The Louisiana Attorney General, whose office is conducting its own investigation, maybe, but not the feds. They just don’t quit that easily.

There are, of course, several questions that will have to be addressed by the U.S. Attorney and, depending on whether or not they are satisfied with what they find, indictments may or may not be forthcoming. If there are no indictments, the matter will die a quiet death. If there are criminal indictments, however, the cheese will get binding.

Probably the most important question will be whether or not Greenstein profited monetarily from his participation in the process of first clearing the way for CNSI to submit a bid and then his potential influence in the actual selection of his old company.

On that question, we offer no opinion because matters now are in the legal system and no longer subject to public records requests. We, like everyone else, can only wait and see as the case is slowly unraveled by investigators.

A second question—only if it is determined that Greenstein did indeed profit in some way from the selection of CNSI—would be what did then-Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater and Gov. Jindal know and when did they know it? Again, this is not to imply that either man was complicit in any effort to steer the contract to CNSI; it’s simply one of several questions that should be explored.

If felonious wrongdoing is found and if it is expanded to include the governor’s office, then the investigation should—and most probably would—widen to include scrutiny of other state contracts issued since January of 2008.

But there is one question that will not be asked by federal investigators or the attorney general’s office but which should be asked by every voter in Louisiana.

Why was Greenstein confirmed in the first place, given his recalcitrant attitude in refusing a directive to tell a Senate committee the name of the winner of a $185 million state contract?

On June 22, 2011, the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 5-2 to confirm the appointment of Greenstein as DHH secretary despite the confrontation between Greenstein and committee members over committee demands for Greenstein to name the winner of the $185 million contract to replace the state’s 23-year-old computer system that adjudicated health care claims and case providers. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/03/21/fbi-investigation-prompts-jindal-to-cancel-controversial-cnsi-contract-but-now-who-will-be-thrown-under-the-bus/

Only Sens. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, and Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia, were sufficiently offended and/or concerned about Greenstein’s staunch refusal to divulge to the committee that CNSI had won the contract during his confirmation hearing.

Five other senators, Ed Murray, D-New Orleans; Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe; Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport; Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge; and Greenstein apologist Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, all voted to confirm Greenstein. Some, like Donahue, heaped lavish praise on Greenstein.

Sen. Robert “Bob” Kostelka chairs the committee and does not vote unless there is a tie. He offered no comments during the proceedings other than to recognize fellow senators who wished to speak and to preside over the vote.

Jackson, who no longer serves in the Senate, having been defeated for re-election in 2011 by former Sen. Gregory Tarver in 2011, said she supported Greenstein even though “this incident (the standoff between Greenstein and the committee over identifying CNSI) calls into question the issue of transparency. I don’t believe the secretary participated in actions that influenced the outcome (of the awarding of the contract).”

Murray, who voted in favor of confirmation, had peppered Greenstein with questions during his initial appearance before the committee. “The secretary was not completely accurate in his responses,” he said. “But I received numerous calls from all over the country attesting to his ability and professionalism. I hope he can live up to those recommendations.”

Donahue, in supporting Greenstein, simply said, “He will do a great job.”

Peterson, who also serves as Chairperson of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said the number one priority for any appointee should be integrity. She said Greenstein was “not worthy of serving the people of this state.”

Marionneaux, who was term limited and could not run for re-election in 2011, said the confirmation procedure of the committee had been “anything but pristine. Mr. Greenstein was very involved in the process (of selecting CNSI).”

Claitor, who supported Greenstein, said, “This is not a ceremonial committee. We will be watching very closely. If things go awry, we will be the first to speak up.”

Well, Sen. Claitor, things have certainly gone awry. But so far, not a single member of the committee has uttered a peep.

Why is that?

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Gov. Bobby Jindal may be about to deliver another $800 million kick in the teeth to Louisiana’s working poor with the same tactic he employed in losing that $80 million broadband internet grant: doing nothing.

But then, doing nothing seems to be what he does best these days (see: Bayou Corne; see: gaining traction as a viable presidential candidate for 2016), although he was rather decisive in cancelling the CNSI contract once word of a federal investigation became public knowledge—nearly three months after Jindal became aware of it.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), already laboring under the cloud of a federal investigation, is running out of time to qualify for approval of the administration’s sweeping plan to privatize state-run hospitals or risk losing additional federal matching Medicaid funding.

That was the word contained in a letter of Jan. 30 from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to Ruth Kennedy, director of the DHH Bureau of Health Services Financing.

State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux) said Friday that DHH has never responded to a list of questions submitted by CMS in its letter to Kennedy.

“I just talked to the CMS representatives this week and they have received absolutely nothing from the state,” Richard said. “If they don’t respond to the questions and get approval before the budget is approved by the legislature, the state stands to lose another $800 million—and we’re already a billion dollars in the hole.”

Richard said he encountered DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein recently and Greenstein assured him that everything had been approved.

“Somebody’s lying,” Richard said, “and I don’t think its CMS.”

At the same time, LouisianaVoice has received a copy of a March 18 letter from State Rep. Regina Ashford Barrow (D-Baton Rouge) to the LSU Board of Supervisors “to express grave concerns” over what she described as the failure of the LSU Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) to receive necessary approval for certain elements of the cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) facilitating the closure of Earl K. Long (EKL) Hospital in Baton Rouge.

“The clinics receive federal reimbursement for uninsured care, including payment of physicians and physicians in training who deliver that care,” she said. “CMS requires that the clinics be attached to a hospital for the funding stream to flow to cover outpatient care.

“While (DHH) has taken the position that CMS approval is not necessary and is moving forward with plans for Our Lady of the Lake (OLOL) Medical Center to operate the provider-based clinics, there remains the potential to lose significant federal funding for noncompliance with CMS requirements.”

Barrow said states “must meet certain requirements relative to decisions involving any provider, including outpatient clinics, of services under the Medicaid program. The failure to receive CMS approval for the transfer of the EKL attached outpatient clinics and the medical education program may result in loss of services to those most in need.”

Barrow then addressed several questions to the board:

• Has CMS approved the plan for OLOL to operate the clinics? If not, why?

• By proceeding forward without CMS approval, can this result in a disallowance that the state will have to repay?

• If CMS doesn’t approve this endeavor, how will the state satisfy its portion of the contract since the state is already facing a financial deficit?

• Who will provide care for uninsured women since the deal with Woman’s Hospital fell through?

• Who will monitor the entire CEA to ensure that it saves money and meets the benchmarks stated in the contract?

• Could there be any legal ramifications to LSU-HSC board members?

“It is imperative that all parties involved are fully apprised of all the details prior to moving forward with the CEA,” Barrow said. “The process continues to evolve and CMS has indicated that they have not been a part of any recent developments.

It turns out that CMS has a few questions of its own.

“The state plan must be comprehensive enough to determine the required level of federal financial participation (FFP) and to allow interested parties to understand the rate setting process and the items and services that are paid through these rates,” the six-CMS letter said.

Among the requests and questions submitted to the state by CMS were:

• No financial impact was noted due to the proposed revisions. Please provide a detailed analysis of how this determination was made and provide supporting documentation of the calculation;

• Please explain why the state proposed an effective date of Nov. 1, 2012, when no agreements have been signed (note that the CMS letter was written on Jan. 30, 2013).

• CMS must have copies of all signed standard cooperative endeavor agreements. In addition, please provide copies of all signed intergovernmental transfer (IGT), management agreements, MOUs (memorandums of understanding), management contracts, loan agreements and any other agreements that would present the possibility of a transfer of value between the two entities;

• Did the state receive any feedback or complaints from the public regarding the CEA? If so, what were the concerns and how were they addressed and resolved?

• Please provide information demonstrating that the changes proposed (in certain documents) comport with public process requirements. Please provide copies of the legislation authorizing the proposed changes.

• How many entities does the state anticipate will participate in this arrangement? Please submit a list of all participating hospitals, all transferring entities doing the IGT, and the dollar amount that the transferring entities will IGT. Please describe how the hospitals are related/affiliated to the transferring entity and provide the names of all owners of the participating hospitals.

• What is the source of all funds that will be transferred?

• What are the sources of IGT funds?

• Does the state agree to provide certification from the transferring entities that the IGTs are voluntary?

• The Social Security Act provides that the lack of adequate funds from local sources will not result in lowering the amount, duration, scope or quality of care and services available under the plan. Please explain how this proposal complies with this provision.

• Please provide an Upper Payment Limit demonstration applicable to the payments for the current rate period for all classes.

• Please include a detailed narrative description of the methodology for calculating the upper payment limit in the state plan language.

• Please clarify if the state or a hospital service district has issued any proposals or enacted any legislation to support the public-private partnerships. Please submit that documentation for our review.

• Are the hospitals required to provide a specific amount of health care service to low income and needy patients? Is this health care limited to hospital only or will health care be provided to the general public? What type of health care covered services will be provided?

• How did the state determine that the Medicaid provider payments are sufficient to enlist enough providers to assure access to care and services in Medicaid at least to the extent that care and services are available to the general population in the geographic area?

• How were providers, advocates and beneficiaries engaged in the discussion around rate modifications?

• Is the state modifying anything else in the state plan which will counterbalance impact on access that may be caused by the decrease in rates?

• Please provide a list of facility closings and services that are being cut by LSU.

• Please describe how the state share of each type of Medicaid payment is funded. Please provide an estimate of total expenditure and state share amounts for each type of Medicaid funding.

That’s quite a to-do list.

Keep in mind the CMS letter was written on Jan. 30. At that time, LSU and DHH were in negotiations with St. Francis Medical Center in Monroe and Willis-Knighten for their takeover of E.A. Conway Hospital and LSU Medical Center, respectively.

Subsequent to that letter, the state abruptly pulled out of the negotiations and is now on the verge of consummating a deal with Biomedical Research Foundation (BRF) of Shreveport whose incoming president and CEO, Dr. John George, also serves on the LSU Board of Supervisors.

Jindal said that George, who presently serves as vice president of BRF, is not being paid a salary by BRF, so there is no conflict of interest. Current President and CEO John Sharp, however, is paid $275,400 and it is assumed that when George ascends to that position, he will be paid as well.

Greenstein, you may remember, refused to tell a Senate Committee in June of 2011 that his old employer, CNSI, had won a contract with his agency worth more than $184 million.

Faced with not being confirmed as DHH Secretary, he finally relented and told the committee that CNSI was the winner of the contract but then said that he had built a “firewall” between him and the selection process and that he had no contact with CNSI representatives during the selection process.

The committee later learned that he had indeed had ongoing discussions with CNSI executives during the bid process and that Greenstein was even responsible for rewriting the request for proposal (RFP) that made CNSI eligible to submit a proposal.

The circumstances surrounding the awarding of that contract are now being investigated by a federal grand jury.

Now Greenstein tells Richard everything was already done and all is well with CMS.

CMS told Richard it had received nothing from Greenstein or DHH.

And now the FBI and Louisiana Attorney General are investigating Greenstein’s agency.

And the health care of hundreds of thousands of Louisiana’s poor hangs in the balance.

It all comes down to one simple question:

Who do you believe?

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New claims of possible bid rigging and unfair trade practices within the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and the Division of Administration (DOA), have surfaced in a two-page letter sent to the U.S. Attorney’s office and to LouisianaVoice this week.

OGB is a multi-billion dollar agency which administers health benefit claims for state employees, retirees and their dependents.

If true, it would be the third time in less than two years that insider negotiations have been conducted between a potential bidder, OGB and DOA preparatory to DOA’s issuing a request for proposals (RFP).

A copy of the unsigned, undated letter also was addressed to State Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe) and to Louisiana Inspector General (IG) Stephen Street, though the writer expressed skepticism over any anticipated action by the IG’s office.

“I am writing as a concerned citizen who has had enough,” the letter said. “I write out of concern that there is something fundamentally wrong with the operations of the Division of Administration. I included the Inspector General out of protocol, but not with the expectation that he will act.”

The letter accused DOA, through OGB of engaging “in a pattern of behavior that has to be, at the very least, unethical” in its dealings with a South Carolina company.

“Within the past few months, the staff of the Office of Group Benefits has been instructed to conduct multiple meetings with a business called BenefitFocus (which is in the business of group health eligibility activity).

“The problem with these meetings is that the blatantly expressed reason for the meetings is the preparation of an RFP on which the company will then bid.

“In fact, in the last meeting,” the writer said, “there was an open discussion on how to either construct an RFP that will yield the company an insurmountable advantage or (that would) make the company a ‘sole source’ vendor that will eliminate competition.”

BenefitFocus is headquartered in Charleston, S.C. and its web page describes it as “the country’s leading provider of benefits technology.” It claims more than 18 million members and 300,000 employers who manage “all types of benefits” through the company which “provides employers, insurance carriers, consumers and government entities with cloud-based technology to shop, enroll, manage and exchange benefits information.

“BenefitFocus clients include small, medium and large employers from all industries, as well as the nation’s top insurance companies,” the website says.

Among the clients listed were Blue Cross/Blue Shield in several states, including Louisiana.
The anonymous writer described the activity between OGB and BenefitFocus as a “pattern,” saying such events have occurred at least twice before.

“The first instance was when OGB (by order of DOA) was looking for a financial advisor. The eventual successful vendor was Goldman Sachs, who had participated in multiple OGB meetings before the bid process and who even had the audacity to help write the RFP,” the letter said.

On April 13, 2011, CNS learned that Goldman Sachs had been active in discussions about the planned privatization of OGB as far back as October or November of 2010. That was about the same time that the idea of privatizing OGB was first floated to then-OGB CEO Tommy Teague in a meeting between then-Deputy Commissioner of Administration Mark Brady, Teague and four representatives of Goldman Sachs.

Teague was fired two days after LouisianaVoice published that story.

When it came time to open the proposals for the project, Goldman Sachs was the only bidder and stood to receive $6 million in fees for its services, whether it was successful in finding a buyer for OGB or not.

Gov. Bobby Jindal eventually rejected the Goldman Sachs bid after details of the Wall Street banking firm’s involvement were made public and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana was ultimately awarded the contract to serve as a third party administrator over OGB’s preferred provider (PPO) organization. BCBS also administers other claims for OGB under a separate contract.

“Earlier in 2012, the letter said, “OGB staff was directed to have multiple meetings with Extend Health, a company in the Medicare Advantage exchange business. The staff attended the meetings and helped answer background questions.

“In later activity with the company, an RFP was drafted (a very narrow drafting) that gave Extend Health a nearly sickening advantage in the bidding,” the writer said. “Of course, Extend Health won.”

Extend Health, the largest private Medicare exchange in the U.S., offers access to multiple Medicare plans for 2013. Retirees who enroll in a Medicare plan through the Extend Health exchange are enrolled in a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) and received HRA credits of $200 to $300 per month from the state up to a maximum of $2,400 per year for single coverage and $3,600 for family coverage.

The credits may be used to pay premiums for Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare Part B. Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, Medigap plans and dental and vision plans.

LouisianaVoice has made public records requests for copies of all correspondence between OGB, DOA and BenefitFocus.

Let’s see how long it takes DOA to invoke the ol’ “deliberative process” exemption.

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The Louisiana Attorney General’s office has more than 80 legal opinions posted online that address the state’s open meetings and public records laws but don’t expect James “Buddy” Caldwell’s office to assist if you run up against resistance from a state agency like, oh say, the Louisiana Department of Education when seeking public records.

When LouisianaVoice recently encountered characteristic foot-dragging by State Education Superintendent in complying with our request for records pertaining to the department’s connections to Bill Gates’ Shared Learning Collaborative and Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., we asked for a little help from the attorney general’s office.

That help was not forthcoming so we had to go to our fall back plan—our legal counsel, J. Arthur Smith who loves to take on the bureaucracy.

Instead, we received a telephone call from an assistant attorney general somewhere deep within the bowels of the Livingston Building at 1885 North Third Street in Baton Rouge.

The assistant AG was polite enough as she explained that it was not the function of the attorney general’s office to assist the public in obtaining public records from recalcitrant state agencies.

“But, but, you do help when people are attempting to obtain access to public meetings,” we sputtered in disbelief.

“Yes,” she said, “but we are not involved in disputes over public records.”

“Yet you will get involved in enforcing open meeting laws?”

“Yes, that’s different.”

“Wait. What? Different?”

“Yes.”

“But I thought the attorney general’s office would assist Louisiana citizens gain access to public records. Isn’t that the law?

“Where does it say that? We assist with public meetings.”

“You differentiate between public records and public meetings?”

“Yes. We will help with public meetings but we don’t involve ourselves with public records.”

“What’s the difference?”

“There is a difference.”

“What is it?”

“One issue is public meetings while the other is public records.”

Such is the surreal world one encounters when attempting to navigate the bureaucratic red tape of state government.

Yet, when one does a cursory internet search, it is easy enough to find opinion after opinion that addresses the very issue in question—like the following excerpts from Louisiana Attorney General opinions:

• The Department of Insurance must comply with a public records request made pursuant to LA. R.S. 44.1, et seq.

• Square footage obtained by the assessor in the performance of his or her constitutional and statutorily designated duties falls within the definition of a public record provided by the Public Records Act…

• The Slidell Memorial Hospital Foundation is a quasi-public body, subject to the open meetings laws, public records laws…

• Hand-held scanners may be used in the inspection of public records (we threw this one in because Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office refused us the opportunity several months back to use our hand-held scanner to inspect public records.)

• The nominating committee for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority is subject to the state’s “open meeting” and “public records” laws.

• When employees conduct official business through electronic communications, it becomes part of the public record which an individual may view…

• East Baton Rouge firefighters’ timesheets are a matter of public record…

And so on. You get our drift.

So, while no help can be anticipated from within the Louisiana Department of Justice (because, in the words of the late Richard Pryor, it’s “just US,” or in this case, “just them”), we will nevertheless plod along in our attempt to keep our readership informed—even to the point of employing the considerable persuasive legal talents of J. Arthur Smith who loves his job almost as much as we love ours.

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