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Archive for the ‘OGB, Office of Group Benefits’ Category

           As 2014 winds down, we decided that everyone else does a year-end wrap-up of the year’s significant events, so why not us?

            Accordingly, here is our review of the first six months of LouisianaVoice installments. The last six months will appear on Wednesday (Dec. 31).

JANUARY

IT Contractor linked to Obamacare, other problems:

A company holding two contracts with the State of Louisiana worth $32.8 million was the lead IT contractor of the ill-fated Affordable Health Care enrollment web page rolled out late last year.

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

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 executives have been involved with at least 20 other troubled government IT projects, including one contract to automate retirements for millions of federal employees that went $60 million over budget and despite $2.3 billion in contracts with two dozen federal agencies, the company was rejected by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) because of “performance issues” in carrying out an earlier contract.

HGI ties to Jindal, Christie:

MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal have begun focusing attention on a Louisiana firm with more than $200 million in contracts with both the Chris Christie and Jindal administrations for federally-funded relief to hurricane victims.

Hammerman & Gainer, Inc., or HGI, of Lutcher, was awarded a $68 million contract in May of 2013 to oversee two programs distributing $780 million in federal money to Sandy victims. That contract was cancelled only six months later, on Dec. 6, 2013, because of mounting complaints about delays in processing claims.

New Jersey homeowners say they have been unable to get answers, paperwork has been misplaced and HGI employees, most of whom are temporary employees, could not be reached by phone and that the company’s recovery centers change rules midstream and that no reconstruction program grants to thousands of applicants already approved have yet been awarded.

HGI also just happens to hold a $60 million contract with the Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit to administer the state’s Road Home Program. That contract began on March 20, 2012, and ends on March 19, 2015. Prior to that contract, HGI had a similar contract for $83.3 million which ran from March 20, 2009 to March 19, 2012. The $83.3 million contract replaced a $912 million contract with ICF Emergency Management Services of Baton Rouge.

In New Jersey, HGI hired Glenn Paulsen, former chief of the Burlington County Republicans, as its legal counsel when it submitted its bid to run the two Sandy relief programs. Paulsen’s law firm Capehart Scatchard, made a $25,000 contribution to the Republican Governors Association which Christie now heads.

HGI contributed $15,000 to Jindal in three equal contributions in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The company also gave $7,500 to Robert Wooley ($2,500 in 2003 and $5,000 in 2002), $5,000 to the Republican Party of Louisiana, $5,000 in 2011, to New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin in March of 2006, only months after Hurricane Katrina, and $7,500 to his successor Mitch Landrieu in equal contributions of $2,500 in 2010, 2011 and 2012. In addition, HGI President Larry Oney gave $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign in 2008.

Alvarez & Marsal gets fat at state trough:

Jindal also awarded a four-month contract to Alvarez & Marsal for a tad more than $5 million that called for the firm to deliver $500 million in savings to the state.

A & M’s cozy if disastrous relationship with state government goes back further than Jindal. In December of 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board adopted Resolution 59-05 on the advice of the consulting firm.

The resolution, passed in the aftermath of disastrous Hurricane Katrina was specifically cited in the ruling earlier this week by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that upheld a lower court decision the school board was wrong to fire 7,500 teachers, effective Jan. 31, 2006.

Then-State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard chose Alvarez & Marsal to prevail upon the school board to replace acting parish Superintendent Ora Watson with an Alvarez & Marsal consultant.

So, Watson was replaced, 7,500 teachers were fired, the teachers sued and won, leaving the Orleans School Board and the state liable for a billion-five and the firm that started it all is hired by Jindal to find a $500,000 savings.

Alvarez & Marsal is specifically cited—by name—no fewer than six times in the first 51 pages of a 2009 report calling for the privatizing the state’s charity hospital system. Alvarez & Marsal performed that bit of work under a $1.7 million contract that ran for nine months in 2009, from Jan. 5 to Sept. 30.

The firm also received a $250,000, contract of a much shorter duration (10 days) from Jindal on April 9, 2013, to develop Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state income taxes in favor of other tax increases. That plan was dead on arrival during the legislative session and Jindal quickly punted before a single legislative vote could be taken.

The obvious next step for Jindal was to

Problems continue at OGB:

Charles Calvi and Patrick Powers are out at the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and Susan West, late of the Office of Risk Management has been named Interim CEO—the fourth person to head OGB in less than three years.

Meanwhile, that $540 million reserve fund balance OGB had on hand to pay benefits at the time of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s infamous raping of the agency now sit at $240 million and is dwindling at a rate of $20 million per month, no doubt the result of Jindal’s 7 percent premium reduction six months before the January 2013 takeover of OGB by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Louisiana.

FEBRUARY

Adley’s not-so-hidden agenda:

State Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) filed Senate Bill 79 which was designed to give Jindal even more power by giving him greater freedom in appointing members of a levee board, specifically the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authorities of both the east and west banks.

The bill was a counteroffensive to attempts by the east bank authority to push for a historic lawsuit that would hold oil and gas companies responsible for damages to coastal wetlands.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPAE) was attempting to force the oil and gas companies to pay for the state’s coastal restoration efforts.

The lawsuit claimed that the companies destroyed the state’s coastal wetlands by dredging canals that contributed to erosion. The marshes had served as a natural buffer that mitigated storm surge. The suit, if successful, could cost the companies billions of dollars.

Adley’s bill should come as no surprise, given his opposition to the lawsuit but some might question why Adley would oppose the legal action against the companies in the first place.

One consideration could be that he has owned pelican Gas Management Co. since 1993, was president of ABCO Petroleum from 1972 to 1993, is affiliated with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and has been the recipient of more than $150,000 in campaign contributions over the years from companies, political action committees, and individuals affiliated with or controlled by oil and gas interests.

Adley’s bill was assigned to the Senate Transportation, Highways & Public Works Committee. The chairman of Transportation, Highways & Public Works?

Robert Adley.

Jindal tantrum goes national:

Jindal’s outburst upon exiting a meeting between the nation’s governors and President Barack Obama Monday was a petulant display of immaturity that only served to underscore his disgraceful scorn for Louisiana’s working poor in favor of pandering to the mega-rich Koch brothers in the apparent hope that some of their Americans for Prosperity (AFP) money might find its way into his campaign coffers.

His shameless promotion of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project coupled with his criticism of Obama’s push for a minimum wage increase comes on the heels of word that Jindal is literally stealing from the blind in drawing down more than half of a trust fund established to assist blind vendors in state buildings to purchase equipment, to pay for repairs and to pay medical bills.

That trust fund shrank from $1.6 million to about $700,000, apparently because of yet another lawsuit the administration found itself embroiled in over the delivery of food services at Fort Polk in Leesville that sucked up $365,000 just for the state’s 21 percent share of attorney fees.

Jindal said of Obama’s push for an increase in the minimum wage that the president “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” and that Obama’s economy “is now the minimum wage economy.”

CIA kidnap accomplice locates in Bossier City

A photo in the Shreveport Times shows a grinning Gov. Bobby Jindal shaking hands with David Zolet, executive vice president and general manager of the North American Sector of Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) as the two jointly announced that the company plans to open a technology center at CSC’s national Cyber Research Park in Bossier City.

CSC will be the anchor tenant of the research park and will partner with Louisiana Tech University to account for 1,600 new jobs over the next four years, thanks in part to $14 million in state funding over the next decade to expand higher education programs to increase the number of computer science graduates per year.

CSC customers, meanwhile, were being urged to boycott the company over allegations that it took part in illegal CIA rendition flights in the U.S. “war on terror.”

Court documents have linked CSC to the rendition of German citizen Khaled El-Masri who was abducted on Dec. 31, 2003, after being mistaken for a known terrorist by the CIA.

El-Masri was blindfolded, beaten, imprisoned for 23 days, stripped, sodomized, chained, drugged, flown to Afghanistan where he was again beaten and imprisoned for another four months, interrogated, threatened, denied legal representation, force fed and finally flown in a CSC-chartered plane to Albania, where he was left on a remote road in the middle of the night some 1500 kilometers from his home.

CSC was contracted for the flight as well as for other illegal CIA renditions, according to human rights charity Reprieve. CSC has so far refused a request by Reprieve to sign a pledge of “zero tolerance to torture,” and has also declined to respond to questions from Computer Weekly about the allegations.

Germany has paid the company some $405 million since 1990 and over the past five years, the country has awarded more than 100 contracts to CSC and its subsidiaries.

The story said it is “no coincidence” that the company’s various German offices are often located near U.S. military bases.

Barksdale AFB, home of the U.S. Air Force’s 2nd Bomb Wing and Global Strike Command, and Cyber Research Park are nearly adjacent in their proximity to each other, with the proposed CSC facility and Barksdale separated only by I-20.

MARCH

Jindal contributor benefits from state road work

The controversy over that 55,000 hunting lodge that straddles three central Louisiana parishes has taken a new and curious twist as the result of a $1.7 million highway resurfacing project that conveniently runs right past the entrance to the lodge that is owned by a major contributor to Gov. Bobby Jindal and to unsuccessful congressional candidate State Sen. Neil Riser.

The overlay of LA. 127, also known locally as the Olla-Sikes Highway, started on Feb. 20 at the Caldwell Parish line and run 5.5 miles east in Winn Parish to LA. 1238, according to an announcement by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).

The LA. 127 project ends at the camp entrance and at the property of TV reality show Swamp People star Troy “Choot ‘em” Landry, whose campsite is located within the hunting camp.

A search of political campaign contributions show that camp owner Bill Busbice and his wife, Beth each contributed the maximum allowable $2,600 ($5,200 total) to State Sen. Neil Riser’s campaign for the 5th Congressional District seat won by Vance McAllister.

Jindal also picked up $20,000 from Busbice and Alfred Lippman of Morgan City, the registered agent for Olla Productions, LLC., one of Busbice’s may business entities.

Busbice contributed $5,000 to Jindal in April of 2009 and Beth Busbice gave another $5,000 in December of that same year, while Lippman contributed $5,000 in October of 2003, $3,500 in April of 2009 and his firm, Lippman, Malfouz, Tranchina & Thorguson of Morgan City gave another $1,500 in September of 2010.

Additionally, one of Lippman’s law partners, David Thorguson and his wife contributed $1,300 to Jindal, Jindal campaign records show.

Appel’s shrewd investments:

State Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) purchased Discovery Communications stock in 2010 a week before a major announcement of a partnership between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Capitol News Service has learned.

On Dec. 7, 2010, Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications, announced that Louisiana and Indiana had joined Oregon in adopting the Discovery Education Science Techbook as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction.

Appel is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and was in a unique position to know not only of the pending deal between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) but also of the company’s recent agreement with Indiana and Oregon, as well as Texas and Florida.

Appel’s financial disclosure form obtained from the State Board of Ethics indicates his Discovery Communications stock purchase was for “between $5,000 and $24,999.”

Discovery Communications is traded on NASDAQ and on the date of Appel’s purchase, the company’s shares opened at $40.96 and closed at $40.78.

And while there was no significant movement in the stock’s prices on the date of and on the day’s following Discovery’s announcement of the agreement with BESE, the stock hit a high of $90.21 per share on Jan. 2 of this year, meaning Appel’s on-paper profit after a little more than three years was in excess of 100 percent. The stock closed on March 27 at $75.72, still an 85 percent gain for Appel.

Appel’s 2012 financial report reveals that he also purchased between $5,000 and $24,999 of Microsoft stock on June 4, 2012, the same date that the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its 85-day session.

Ten days earlier, on May 25, the Louisiana Legislature approved the implementation of Common Core in Louisiana after a major push by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which poured more than $200 million to develop, review, evaluate, promote and implement Common Core.

APRIL

Deputy Sheriff dabbles in private background checks:

A former DeSoto Parish sheriff’s deputy may have violated state law by using his office to run background checks for a company in which he owned a major interest, according to a report by the Legislative Auditor’s office in Baton Rouge.

Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations ran 41,574 background checks through the sheriff’s office during an 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, the report says. Robert Davidson, retired chief investigator for the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office, is 50 percent owner of Lagniappe and Castillo. He was employed by DPSO from 1980 until his retirement in May of 2013.

The report, released on Monday, also noted that three DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office (DPSO) employees were paid nearly $2,000 by Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations for running the background checks between January 2011 and May 2013, duties they would normally perform as part of their jobs with the sheriff’s office.

The company charged its customers $12 for each background report and paid the sheriff’s office $3 for each report. That represents an income of more than $374,000 and a profit of more than $372,000 for owners Robert Davidson and Allan Neal Castillo.

Extortion claimed on state highway project:

A six and one-half-year-old lawsuit took a dramatic turn following a Mangham contractor’s claim that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) denied payments for work performed by his company because he resisted shake-down efforts by a DOTD inspector.

Jeff Mercer owner of the now-defunct construction company that bears his name, worked as a subcontractor to several prime contractors on six different projects for which he has not been paid. He first filed his lawsuit against DOTD on Sept. 7, 2007, in state district court in Monroe, claiming that the state owes him nearly $9 million for actual work done for which he was never paid, plus interest and delay costs which bring the total to more than $11.6 million.

The $500 million savings report by Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) was finally released on Monday only minutes before adjournment of the 2014 legislative session.

The 425-page report, produced under a $5 million contract, while projecting a savings of $2.7 billion over five years (an average of $540 million a year).

Most of the projected cost savings were based on assumptions for which A&M offered little or no supporting data other than arbitrary estimates and suppositions that could have been produced at a fraction of the report’s $11,760 per-page cost.

MAY

It pays to play I:

If there are any lingering doubts that politicians are beholden to the special interest who bankroll their campaigns, consider the money that has been spread among our state lawmakers—just from the oil and gas interests:

  • The 144 incumbent legislators have received more than $5.8 million in campaign contributions by a single special interest group—oil and gas. That comes to an average of $40,357 per legislator.
  • For the 39 current members of the Louisiana Senate, the aggregate is a little north of $2.8 million, or $51,100 each.
  • A total of $2.99 million was distributed among the 105 House members—an average of $40350 each, the figures show.

So, by obtaining a dismissal of litigation that could conceivably cost oil companies several hundred million dollars—before it ever goes to trial or even to the discovery stage—by spreading $5.8 million around represents a nice return on investment.

And make no mistake about it: campaign contributions are just that—investments.

It pays to play II:

The Senate Finance Committee on Sunday (Sen. Dan Claitor discarded their oaths of office—their sworn duty to protect the interests of the people of Louisiana—in favor of political expedience of the very lowest sort by ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and allocating the money for a Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish.

LouisianaVoice conducted a search of the Secretary of State’s web page to learn the identities of the NOLA Motor Club corporate officers and whose name should pop up as one of the principals? Laney Chouest, that’s who.

So, who is Laney Chouest, you ask?

Well, he also showed up as an officer in a few other corporations run by the politically active Chouest family of Galliano. Their main business is in shipbuilding and Laney Chouest was listed as an officer in Edison Chouest Offshore, Inc., Alpha Marine Service Holdings, LLC. and Beta Marine Services, LLC., to name only three.

So, armed with that information we did a campaign contribution search of only the last name of Chouest and we hit the mother lode.

Between 2007 and 2010, members of the Chouest family and their various businesses contributed $106,500 to Jindal.

JUNE

Legislator’s firm cited for environmental infractions:

A citation and a cease order issued to Dual Trucking Co. by the Montana Department of Environmental Equality for dumping oilfield radioactive waste from the nearby Bakken Oilfield, it turns out, is not the only problem State Rep. Gordon Dove (R-Houma) has experienced with environmental authorities, Capitol News Service has learned.

Vacco Marine, Inc., a company owned by Dove, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, has been the subject of several investigations, negative reports, citations, and compliance orders by and from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over a period of several years, records show.

Last week, while presiding over a meeting of the Natural Resources Committee, he joined 12 other members in passing an amendment to SB 469 that made the prohibition against suing oil companies for damages to the state’s wetlands and marshes retroactive.

Dove also serves as a member of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Lobbyists swarm to protect BP:

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with it accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like so many blow flies around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

Blogger Lamar White, Jr. observed that former Gov. Edwin Edwards spent eight years in a federal prison for accepting payments from hopeful casino operators for his assistance in obtaining licenses—all after he left office. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was similarly convicted of using his position to steer business to a family-owned company and taking free vacations meals and cell phones from people attempting to score contracts or incentives from the city.

So what is the difference between what they did and the ton of contributions received by Adley and Jindal? To paraphrase my favorite playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare, a payoff by any other name smells just as rank.

And while big oil money flowed like liquor at the State Capitol (figuratively of course; it’s illegal to make or accept campaign contributions during the legislative session), what many may not know is that Jindal may have had an ulterior motive in going against sound legal advice to sign the bill into law, thus protecting the interests of big oil over the welfare of Louisiana citizens who have seen frightening erosion of the state’s shoreline and freshwater marshes.

The Washington, D.C., law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is one of the firms that represented BP in negotiating a $4.5 billion settlement that ended criminal charges against the company. Included in that settlement amount was a $1.26 billion criminal fine to be paid over five years.

An associate of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who has defended clients in government audit cases and in several whistleblower cases is one Nikesh Jindal.

He also is assigned to the division handling the BP case.

Nikesh Jindal is the younger brother of Gov. Piyush, aka Bobby Jindal.

Suddenly, John Barry’s words take on a little more significance: “We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with it accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like so many blow flies around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

 

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One of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s favorite activities (second only to trips to Iowa and New Hampshire) appears to be his now-routine exercise of mid-year budget cuts and hiring freezes.

But like any deft politician, he leaves himself wiggle room.

Lots of wiggle room.

On Jan. 15, 2014, Jindal, in reaction to the state’s worsening fiscal condition, issued an executive order for a “limited hiring freeze” that extended to some 40 state agencies. That order stipulated that no agency use employee transfers, promotions, reallocations or the creation of new positions in such a manner as to exceed a ceiling imposed by the commissioner of administration. JANUARY HIRING FREEZE

As state finances continued to deteriorate, Jindal followed up with a statewide expenditure freeze on April 14. While that order imposed statewide cuts, it listed enough exemptions and exceptions as to render it practically meaningless—except for higher education and healthcare expenditures not covered by federal funding. As has always been the case, those were not spared. APRIL EXPENDITURE FREEZE

The order continued a trend that has come to define the Jindal administration: extensive mid-year cuts.

Then, on Nov. 7, Jindal issued his first executive order of the 2014-2015 fiscal year that began on July 1 for another statewide expenditure freeze. Again, the main areas cut were higher education and health care, though as with the April order, other agencies felt at least some of the effects. Theoretically at least, the only exceptions were essential services and federally funded programs. NOVEMBER EXPENDITURE FREEZE

Now, Jindal is at it again. On Dec. 18, he issued yet another executive order, the fourth of the calendar year and the second this fiscal year. This one called for expenditure reductions totaling $153 million and authorizing Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols to impose an additional $17.4 million in cuts for total cuts of $170.4 million.

DECEMBER EXPENDITURE REDUCTION

Among the latest cuts ordered by Jindal included:

  • Higher Education: $4.9 million;
  • Department of Education: $6.77 million;
  • Corrections: $336,780;
  • Division of Administration: $3.5 million;
  • Veterans Affairs: $240,000;
  • Office of Juvenile Justice: $1.98 million;
  • Office of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH): $131.8 million (includes $127.44 million in cuts to medical vendors, $2.64 million to medical vendor administration, and $308,213 in cuts to the Office of Citizens with Developmental Disabilities);
  • Office of Children and Family Services: $964,980;
  • Department of Natural Resources: $1.29 million;
  • Department of Economic Development: $1.4 million.

One of the more interesting sidebars to this entire scenario is that with the latest executive order, DOA gave some agencies only eight working days in which to provide a myriad of information, including lists of all contractors and amounts paid on the contracts.

DOA has consistently taken weeks and sometimes months in which to comply with similar requests by LouisianaVoice, a point which will be raised in any future litigation by LouisianaVoice. We will, in all probability, cite that long-standing legal precedent Goose v. Gander in our legal arguments.

We mentioned at the beginning of this post that Jindal has left himself a lot of room to maneuver around his own dictates and we had little problem in finding good examples.

In early November, only hours before that Nov. 7 hiring freeze for example, the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) brought two six-figure appointees over from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana to assist OGB Chief Executive Officer Susan West in handling an agency that appeared to be spinning out of her control.

West makes $170,000 a year as CEO but the governor’s office somehow saw fit to pay Thomas Groves $220,000 a year as Assistant Commissioner and Elise Cazes $106,512 as Group Benefits Administrator.

And now we learn that OGB is still hiring long after that hiring freeze took effect last month.

The Office of Civil Service will close applications on Friday (Dec. 26) for the position of Group Benefits Director (what that entails). The salary range for that position is between $50,900 and $107,000, according to the Civil Service announcement.

That’s a pretty big spread and our bet is the new hire won’t be starting at the bottom of that scale.

It seems curious to us that OGB managed to survive—and even thrive, building a $500 million reserve fund balance—without all that added weight before the decision to fire former CEO Tommy Teague in April of 2011, lay off more than 100 personnel, to privatize the agency and in the process, manage to lose half of that $500 million reserve fund.

Not satisfied with increasing the number of administrative positions at OGB, the administration is currently advertising for a Chief Legal Officer for OGB, according to listings provided by Civil Service.

And then there is the case of Chance McNeely who, since last march has served as a $65,000-a-year policy analyst for the Governor’s office but more recently was appointed as Assistant Secretary for Environmental Compliance at the Department of Environmental Quality at an as yet undisclosed salary.

Three things stand out about the McNeely appointment. First, with Jindal’s term of office winding down to just over a year left, McNeely need a nice cozy spot to land in a classified (read: protected) position.

Second, the creation of that position would seem to violate Jindal’s own directive of last April that “no agency use employee transfers, promotions, reallocations or the creation of new positions in such a manner as to exceed a ceiling” imposed by the administration. Jindal and Nichols would argue that that caveat applied to the previous fiscal year, not 2014-2015 and technically, they would be correct. But the state’s financial condition is even worse than last year, so one might reasonably assume that prohibition should have been carried forward into the new fiscal year. But when it adheres to the wishes of Jindal, the rules apparently do not apply. After all, it was in a Division of Administration staff meeting a couple of years ago that the directive was given to staffers to not let the law stand in the way of the administration’s wishes.

And third, since when does Jindal care about the environment anyway? Remember that Jindal himself described climate change advocates as “science deniers.”

Curious indeed for a governor obsessed with reducing the size of government.

But, as those cheesy TV commercials say, there’s more. We also have the Department of Education.

Since January of 2014, DOE has chalked up 300 new hires—190 full time and 110 part time—at a combined salary of more than $9.6 million, or an average yearly salary of $50,857, including part timers.

The Recovery School District (RSD), which has experienced a string of critical state audits, had 93 of those 190 new full time hires at a combined salary of $4.1 million.

DOE hired 50 part time employees at $500 per week or more (a combined salary of $2 million per year) and 16 of those part timers, all employed by RSD, were hired at $1,000 per week or more. One of those, guidance counselor Nancye Ann Verlander, was hired at a part time salary of $3,000 per week ($156,000 per year), according to records provided by Civil Service.

Two others, Kathryn Elichman and Kenneth Elichman, were hired as part time administrators at $1,600 and $1,150 per week ($83,200 and $59,800 per year, respectively), records show, and a part time school nurse receives $72,800 per year.

Meanwhile, Jindal travels the country visiting fairs and community groups in Iowa and New Hampshire and grabbing network TV face time at every opportunity to proclaim how he has delivered a balanced state budget, reduced the size of government, lowered taxes, and turned Louisiana into a utopia for its four million citizens.

Those citizens, however, somehow continue to see Louisiana turn up near the bottom of surveys of all things good and at the top of all things bad.

Such is the surrealistic world of budget cuts and hiring freezes in the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

 

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A group of state employees and retirees is attempting to raise funds to finance a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Division of Administration over the pirating of nearly a quarter-billion dollars of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) reserve fund.

LA VERITE (French for Truth, but also an acronym for Louisiana Voices of Employees and Retirees for Insurance Truth and Equity) is soliciting donations to help pay the legal fees required to file and to pursue the litigation to prevent Jindal from dipping further into what once was a reserve fund of more than $500 million in order to balance his perpetually out-of-kilter state budget.

Below is a letter LouisianaVoice received from LA VERITE which is self-explanatory:

GIVE YOURSELF A CHRISTMAS GIFT –

INVEST IN YOUR FUTURE

 DONATE TODAY TO SUE BOBBY JINDAL AND

STOP THE OGB HEALTH PLAN CHANGES THAT WILL KEEP YOU AND YOUR FAMILY FROM HAVING AFFORDABLE INSURANCE AND HEALTH CARE

Are you ready to join the fight to stop Bobby Jindal’s illegal destruction of the Office of Group Benefits?  You can be a part of the challenge to Bobby Jindal’s plan to prevent state employees and retirees from having decent, affordable, comprehensive health insurance.

 PLEASE DONATE WHATEVER YOU CAN AFFORD TO LA VERITE’ SO WE CAN FILE A LAWSUIT TO STOP THE CRIPPLNG INCREASES IN OUT-OF-POCKET (YOUR POCKET) COSTS OF THE NEW HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS TAKING EFFECT ON MARCH 1, 2015. 

 We cannot file the lawsuit until funds have been raised to do so.

 Please send a check or money order as soon as possible to:

LA VERITE’

7575 Jefferson Hwy. #35

Baton Rouge, LA  70806

 HELP STOP THE ILLEGAL AND IMMORAL THEFT OF

YOUR HARD EARNED MONEY.

Jindal plans to balance the state budget on us – state employees and retirees.  Can you afford to pay for his giveaways to his rich friends through tax breaks that have drained the state budget?  We will be paying for Jindal’s corrupt practices long after he is gone.  See the news story below:

From The Advocate: ‘State budget saving report brings questions':

Marsha Shuler Dec. 08, 2014

The Jindal administration is two-thirds of the way toward achieving savings called for in the state’s $25 billion budget for the current fiscal year, officials told a legislative committee Monday….The administration updated the committee on goals contained in the Governmental Efficiencies Management Support report released in June. The overall report, submitted by private consultants Alvarez & Marsal, identifies more than $2.7 billion savings or revenue generating ideas that the state will implement over the next five years across all areas of operations…. About $1 billion of the savings is expected to come from the state Office of Group Benefits which provides insurance to some 230,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents. Changes are currently underway, including increased premiums and shifting more out-of-pocket expenses to plan members.

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After years without merit increases, some state employees finally received a raise last year, and most received a four percent raise Oct. 1. Our paychecks would be approximately 20 percent more if we had received regular merit increases during the Jindal years. While Jindal pretends not to raise taxes, we state employees are being taxed in effect, to fund tax breaks for the very wealthy.

THERE WILL BE NO RAISE IN 2015 DUE TO THE CURRENT FISCAL CRISIS – A HUGE DEFICIT THIS FISCAL YEAR. Drastic mid-year budget cuts will soon be announced to attempt to deal with THE LOOMING $1.4 BILLION DEFICIT NEXT FISCAL YEAR.

Jindal has privatized OGB and raided the trust fund, so now we are facing increased premiums, imposition of deductibles where none existed before, and confusing plans that have been repeatedly changed so we cannot understand the coverage….all designed to further punish hardworking, dedicated public servants.  After withholding our merit increases for years Jindal now plans to impose crippling increases in our healthcare costs that most of us cannot afford.

Jindal and Kristi Nichols have refused to abide by the requirements of the Louisiana Administrative Procedures Act (APA) – actions which the Attorney General has ruled illegal, meaning their OGB agenda is not legal. They are thumbing their noses at the law, and jeopardizing the wellbeing of almost a quarter of a million Louisiana citizens. Help stop the most corrupt administration in modern state history from carrying out their plan to cause further financial harm to you and your family.

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LA VERITE’ is a group of state employees and retirees seeking to bring a lawsuit to prevent Jindal and Kristi Nichols from forcing us into poorly designed, expensive health plans that we cannot afford.  Anyone can join LA Verite’ – in fact, you already belong if you are an active or retired Louisiana state employee.

LA Verite’ is French for TRUTH, and stands for LouisianA Voices of Employees and Retirees for Insurance Truth and Equity.

Contact us at LA.Verite2015@outlook.com

Remember: as a civil servant, you have the right to participate in activities concerning issues that impact you.  You may publicly support or oppose issues other than support of candidates or political parties (Civil Service General Circular Number 2014-021).  We have also consulted a state ethics attorney who assures that we are within our rights.  This effort is legal and ethical.

However, be assured that your donation to LA VERITE’ to help fund the OGB lawsuit will be kept confidential.  Your identity will not be made public.  Donations are not tax deductible.

Please share this information with co-workers.  Forward the email or print it out and pass it on.  Truth and equity in 2015!

 

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What will Gov. Bobby Jindal say when he appears on Meet the Press Sunday?

Of course we know he will attack President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare while ignoring the fact that his decision not to expand Medicaid may end up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s a given.

At the same time he is criticizing Obama for not being more proactive on the Ebola crisis, he will fail to mention his rejection of the Medicaid expansion has been at the expense of health coverage for a couple hundred thousand low-income Louisianans.

He will condemn the president for his lax immigration policy while turning a blind eye to the indisputable fact that Latin Americans who do enter this country generally take low-paying jobs no one else wants. He won’t mention companies like IBM, Dell, ACS, and Pfizer, to name but a few, that have taken advantage of an obscure work visa (the H-1B program) to lay off more than 250,000 Americans from high-tech IT jobs. These companies lay Americans off in favor of importing hundreds of thousands of Indians who work for far less, thus saving these companies billions of dollars.

He will no doubt boast of his accomplishments as governor—claims that simply will not stand up under close examination—apparently pulled off by remote control. This is especially the case during his second term when his title would more accurately be governor in absentia. He has spent an inordinate amount of time traveling outside the state in an attempt to build support for a anemic campaign for the GOP presidential nomination that, despite his near-desperate efforts, is gaining no traction.

He could lambast the Common Core curriculum, once again ignoring that fact that he was in favor of Common Core before he was against it.

There are so many other things he could discuss but probably won’t.

He won’t mention, for instance, his abysmal record in the state’s courtrooms. One of these was his miserably failed effort to jerk retirement benefits from under the feet of active state employees, some of whom would have seen their retirement income plummet to as little as $6,000 a year—with no social security—had he been successful.

He will attempt once again to convince the nation—those of us in Louisiana know better, of course—that he has balanced the state budget while cutting taxes and reducing the number of state employees.

Yes, he has reduced the number of state employees, but at what cost? The Office of Group Benefits (OGB) is a shell of the once smooth-running state office that handled the medical claims of some 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents. Not that that matters to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols who, we are told, is a member of the LSU health plan and thus unaffected by the changes.

And of course Jindal, through his smoke and mirrors game of premium reductions, has managed to siphon off more than half of OGB’s $500 million reserve fund. He also recently attempted to slash benefits and pile unaffordable co-pay and deductible increases onto the backs of state employees and retirees. In short, his grand scheme to privatize OGB has proven nothing less than an unmitigated disaster of politically humiliating (to him) proportions. His firing of respected CEO Tommy Teague and the mess that has ensued stand as a monument to unparalleled mismanagement and political meddling.

And his budget balancing has produced unprecedented cuts to higher education. Colleges and universities in Louisiana have seen their appropriations gouged by nearly 70 percent during Jindal’s almost seven sorry years in office. God help us if he should somehow be placed in the position of inflicting such carnage on the nation as he has on Louisiana.

And what of that claim of balancing the budget, anyway?

Let’s review.

We will take figures provided to us by State Treasurer John Kennedy that reflect the general fund balances as of Oct. 31. And while we are quick to acknowledge the fact that the numbers will certainly improve next spring when revenues start picking up from state income tax and corporate tax collections, a comparison of the last five Octobers is both startling and sobering.

As of Oct. 31 of this year, the general fund balance reflected a deficit of $924.6 million. That’s just $75.4 million shy of $1 billion—and OGB alone is losing $16 million each month.

And yes, the numbers will improve next spring but let’s look back just one year. As of Oct. 31, 2013, the balance reflected a deficit of $656.7 million. That’s nearly $268 million less in negative spending than for this year.

Still not convinced? Well, for Oct. 31, 2012, the deficit was $476.6 million, about $448 million less than for the same month in 2014.

And while it was slightly higher at $565.2 million on Oct. 31, 2011, the number for 2010 was only $181.5 million—almost three-quarters of a billion dollars billion better than this year.

In five short years, the October deficit for the state general fund balance has increased fivefold.

The historically high negative balance, which arrives just a few months into each new fiscal year (which begins on July 1), “is forcing fund borrowing to sustain cash flow,” Kennedy says. “It darkly foreshadows the challenge ahead for lawmakers and the governor in the 2015 regular session. A budget shortfall of at least $1.2 billion is expected, but it’s clearly a figure that could move. It also increases the likelihood of midyear budget cuts in the minds of some.” (The administration finally admitted this even as this post was being written on Friday. Spending for the next seven months will have to be slashed by at least $171 million because of lower than anticipated revenues.) http://theadvocate.com/news/10833948-123/state-needs-mid-year-budget-correction

And here is the rub that has Kennedy and Nichols crossing swords: Kennedy says to some lawmakers, “the negative balance is at a critical high because the state started the fiscal year with a deficit cash balance of $141 million and because expenses actually are greater than revenues,” Kennedy said.

Nichols, however, vehemently disagrees, claiming instead that the administration stumbled upon some $320 million in extra cash from prior years lying around in agencies scattered across the state which she claims gives the state an actual surplus of nearly $179 million.

The problem she has, however, is that no one believes her—including two former commissioners of administration interviewed by LouisianaVoice, both of whom say it’s just not feasible that that much money could have been just lying around all these years without anyone’s knowing of its existence.

Nichols, of course, has to maintain a brave face in order that her boss can save face.

You see, as Bob Mann points out in his latest posting on his blog Something Like the Truth, Jindal “must never have raised a tax” and “must never have presided over an unbalanced state budget” if he wishes to cling to any fading hopes of the GOP presidential nomination.

“All your advantages—your personality, your policy credentials, the importance of your state in Electoral College politics—won’t help you much if you don’t meet these basic qualifications,” Mann said. http://bobmannblog.com/

“Jindal knows Republican audiences in Iowa and elsewhere will pay him little mind if they learn about his fiscal recklessness,” he said. “So, he and Nichols tried to cover their tracks, including dishonestly blaming their budget deficit on state Treasurer John Kennedy.”

Jindal, of course, won’t address any of these issues. But were he of a mind to do so, he could even discuss on his Meet the Press appearance how he tried to frame Murphy Painter, former director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control after Painter refused to knuckle under to demands that he look the other way on behalf of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson over Budweiser’s application for an alcohol permit at Champion’s Square. He could tell how that effort backfired and the state was forced to pay Painter’s legal bills of some $300,000. But he probably won’t

He could discuss how he attempted unsuccessfully to circumvent state law and obtain a hefty $55,000 per year increase in pension benefits for his state police commander. But most likely, he won’t.

And he could disclose how much it has cost Louisiana taxpayers in terms of payroll, meals and lodging for state police security as he jets around the country in pursuit of his presidential aspirations. But don’t expect him to.

Yes, Jindal could discuss these and other matters during Sunday’s program, but he won’t.

The simple fact is, by virtue of his bottom-feeding position as the anchor in the GOP nominee sweepstakes, he just can’t afford to.

And saddest of all, no one on the program’s panel is likely to inquire about these issues.

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You have to love the Division of Administration (DOA) and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB). Their concern for the 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents is surpassed only by their arrogance.

Saying “We heard the financial concerns of our members and Legislators,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols made the self-serving announcement that OGB has decided to delay the effective date of changes arbitrarily (and illegally) implemented to medical and pharmacy plans from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30. OGB RELEASE

Here is the information provided on the OGB web site: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4D7A4D344D6A45794E533551524559334E6A4D32

Never mind that State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) told Nichols and OGB CEO Susan West back on Sept. 25 that they were flirting with major litigation and the threat of having to refund millions of dollars to OGB members who were hit with benefits changes which were illegal until such time as a rule could be adopted. Here is the link to video clips of that hearing: http://youtu.be/ct652tBa8Mc.

Except for Edwards who said the move was illegal. He requested and obtained an Attorney General’s opinion that agreed with him.

            Nichols, as is her custom, was not going to promulgate rules at all in implementing the new rates members would have to pay for prescriptions even though the law requires advertisement and public hearings on such changes. Instead, the administration, facing a shrinking OGB reserve fund because of its repeated premium cuts, plunged ahead, the law and state employees be damned.

The premiums were reduced so that the state would enjoy a similar reduction in the 75 percent of premiums it is required to pay for health coverage of OGB members. Gov. Bobby Jindal and Nichols cut the rates by nearly 9 percent despite a report from Buck Consultants which stated flatly that it never made such actuarial advice.

Pursuant to testimony given in the Sept. 25 hearing by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) in which Kristy said Buck Consultants had recommended a premium reduction, Edwards requested a copy of the actuarial recommendations.

            “I still have not received any actuarial recommendations for the 2013 and 2014 premium reductions at OGB,” Edwards said Tuesday. “Nor have they told me that such recommendations do not exist. Clearly, they do not.”

The OGB web site does contain a request for proposals (RFP) for an actuarial that is dated Sept. 26: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4D7A4D774E4445794D793551524559334E444531

The Baton Rouge Advocate said the refunds the state must now make to OGB members who were overcharged in the form of out-of-pocket expenses will come to nearly $4.5 million and is expected to be refunded within 60 days.

http://theadvocate.com/news/10718472-123/group-benefits-change-announced

Getting the refunds for the overcharges won’t be a walk in the park if past experience with the OGB pharmaceutical benefits administrator is any indication. “Members who incurred increased pharmacy costs between Aug. 1 and Sept. 29 based on exclusions must submit an appeals form to MedImpact,” said the news release from OGB, adding that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana (BCBS) will reprocess claims for members who incurred increased medical costs through their providers during that time period. There is an appeals form for MedImpact on the OGB web page, but it appears to apply only to prescriptions that were rejected or denied by pharmacies in August and September: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4D7A4D344D6A45794E693551524559334E6A4D33

If members incurred costs that were not submitted through a provider, they must submit an appeal request form to Blue Cross and Blue Shield,” the release said. “The forms can be found on the OGB website at www.groupbenefits.org.”

Edwards said the burden should not be placed on state employees and retirees to file appeals on overpayments. “Group Benefits has the claims information and they should be required to make the determination of who is owed what and it should be Group Benefits that takes the initiative on this,” he said.

Of course, by placing the onus on employees and retirees, DOA is counting on members being unfamiliar with the process or uninformed about the refund program altogether. If they do not file appeals for refunds, no refund will be made and the state will not have to repay victims of the overcharges. “That’s why Group Benefits should be the one responsible for seeing to it that everyone who was overcharged because of its illegal actions in implementing the changes in the first place should get those overcharges refunded,” Edwards said. “The members should not be held responsible for the illegal actions of Group Benefits and DOA.”

Here are links to the after-the-fact DOA Emergency Rule declaration: http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/doa/Presentations/Emergency_Rules_-_Office_of_Group_Benefits_9-30-2014.pdf and DOA’s Notice of Intent: http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/doa/Presentations/Ordinary_Rule_-_Office_of_Group_Benefits_10-01-2014.pdf

The clumsy attempt at circumventing the law is just another in a long line of embarrassing episodes perpetrated by the Jindal administration as the governor pays less and less attention to the home front in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, leaving the job of running the state to appointees equally unqualified as he to run so much as a snow cone stand.

Nichols typically ignored the threat of litigation in making the announcement just as the administration ignored the law in implementing the changes, even disagreeing in that Sept. 25 hearing on the necessity of publishing the proposed changes and conducting public hearings.

And West even attempted to justify the changes by pointing out to retirees and active members that she must pay the same premiums as they. She apparently failed to consider the fact that most state employees and certainly most retirees do not make her $170,000 per year salary.

The Retired State Employees Association (RSEA) threatened a lawsuit, challenging the administration’s contention that it could use the emergency rule (employed repeatedly by the administration during Jindal’s nearly seven years in office) to make changes in the medical and pharmacy plans.

Nichols was not even around for the conclusion of that Sept. 25 JLCB meeting, having stepped out of the committee room ostensibly to take an “important” phone call. In reality, it turned out she stepped out permanently to take her daughter to a boy band concert in New Orleans where she watched from the comfort of the governor’s luxury box at the Smoothie King Arena (see the snow cone stand reference above).

“Let’s hope that the legislature will continue to exercise oversight on this issue to drive more changes in the plans whereby the out-of-pocket cost increases of OGB members are reduced and (so that) the state will share in the cost of restoring the system’s soundness,” Edwards said in a prepared statement.

 

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