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Archive for the ‘ORM, Office of Risk Management’ Category

Some things never change when it comes to doing business with the State of Louisiana.

Several business owners have, over the past couple of years, told LouisianaVoice they would never bid on a state contract because, they said, the bid process and contracts are rigged, or at least weighted, heavily in favor of pre-selected vendors.

Now, three separate sources have come forward to offer specifics that support that claim as it regards a request for proposals (RFP) for renewal of an existing $75 million contract.

One of our very first stories under the LouisianaVoice banner was the manner in which Gov. Bobby Jindal went about privatizing his very first state agency, the Office of Risk Management (ORM), throwing nearly 100 employees out of work in the process.

Now we learn the story of F.A. Richard & Associates (FARA), the Mandeville company the state initially paid $68 million to take over as third party administrator (TPA) of ORM has taken yet another interesting twist.

Well, make that two interesting twists—including a third violation of the original contract between the Division of Administration (DOA) and FARA and now it seems there may be a strong case made for bid manipulation on the part of the state.

The reason we said the state initially paid $68 million is because eight months after that 2011 takeover, FARA was back asking—and getting—an amendment to its contract which boosted the contract amount by exactly 10 percent, or $6.8 million, bringing the total cost to just a tad under $75 million. An obscure state regulation allowed a one-time amendment to contracts for up to (drum roll, please)…10 percent.

Then, less than a month after the contract was amended by that $6.8 million, FARA sold its state contract to Avizent, an Ohio company, which kept the contract for about four months before it sold out to York Risk Services Group of Parsippany, New Jersey.

Last month, it was announced that Onex Corp., a Toronto-based private equity firm, had finalized a deal to acquire York for $1.325 billion.

In each case, the name FARA was retained “for branding purposes,” according to one former FARA employee, but there was no getting around the fact that the state’s contract was—and is—being shifted from one company to another until the latest deal that placed in the possession of a foreign corporation.

The original contract with FARA stipulates that the contract may not be sold, transferred or re-assigned without “prior written authority” from DOA.

LouisianaVoice, of course, made the appropriate public records request for that “prior written authority” right after it was sold the first time—to Avizent. After the usual delays in responding, DOA finally sent us an email which said no such document existed.

So, now we a contract the very specific terms of which have openly violated not once, not twice, but three times and the state has remained silent on this point.

Jindal, in case you need a reminder, is the same Louisiana governor who only last Friday criticized President Obama of “flaunting the law” in his executive action granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.

But as bad as the contract shuffling might be, ongoing efforts to rig the bidding process for a renewal of the five-year contract in FARA’s favor would appear to be far more serious.

Three separate sources—one employed by DOA and the other two former employees of first ORM and, after ORM was privatized, FARA, said that FARA had been requested to assist in drafting a new RFP in such a way as to guarantee that FARA would retain the contract.

Both former FARA employees, interviewed separately, said a staff meeting of FARA employees was held in Lafayette last April and again in May. On both occasions, they said, FARA management assured them that the company had been asked to assist ORM in drafting the RFP and that FARA was certain to win renewal of the contract, which expires next July 1.

“We were all told to update our resumés so they could be used in beefing up FARA’s proposal,” said one of the former employees.

If true, that would constitute bid rigging in almost any law book and should prompt an immediate investigation. This would be an ideal opportunity for someone to awaken East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore to see if he is up to performing his duties.

Wasn’t that, after all, the basis for the investigation of Bruce Greenstein and the $189 million contract to his former employer, CNSI? That was the investigation that led to his nine-count indictment for perjury.

Having said that, if there are any other business owners who have had unpleasant experiences in bidding on state contracts, or who feel they have been shut out of the process through favoritism we would love to hear from you. Our email address is: louisianavoice@yahoo.com or louisianavoice@cox.net

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As if the administration’s handling of bogus criminal accusations against former Commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter wasn’t already embarrassing enough after Painter’s acquittal ended up costing the state $474,000 in reimbursement of his legal fees and expenses, a recent civil court decision has added insult to injury.

Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa/New Hampshire/Florida/Anywhere but Louisiana) thought he could make an example of Painter over the then-ATC commissioner’s refusal to bend the rules for New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, whose family and businesses have poured some $40,000 into various Jindal political campaigns.

Painter twice rejected applications by SMG (formerly Spectacor Management Group), the Mercedes-Benz Superdome management firm, for a permit to erect a large tent at Benson’s Champions Square adjacent to Benson Towers across from the Superdome. The tent was to house beer sales by Anheuser-Busch distributor Southern Eagle and approval of the permit was sought by Southern Eagle, SMG, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) board and a law firm representing SMG. Altogether, the Benson family, LSED board members, SMG, its law firm and Southern Eagle had combined to pour more than $203,000 into Jindal campaigns between 2003 and 2012.

When Jindal executive counsel Stephen Waguespack insisted that the permit be expedited, Painter asked that he put his concerns in writing but Waguespack refused.

Not only did Jindal fire Painter when his commissioner insisted that the permit application for the Champions Square tent be complete and proper, he even had Painter indicted on criminal charges of stalking a female employee. Present at the firing ceremony were Waguespack, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, and another member of the governor’s legal staff.

The subsequent criminal prosecution of Painter fell apart and his acquittal carried a stipulation that the state pick up the tab for Painter’s legal fees and affiliated costs.

Now, a civil trial jury has determined unanimously that the female former employee, Kelli Suire, defamed Painter even though the Louisiana Office of Risk Management, most likely at the insistence of Jindal’s Division of Administration, settled Suire’s claims against the state in 2011 without Suire’s ever having been required to sit for a sworn deposition in the apparent hope the settlement would bolster the state’s case against Painter.

Oops.

Painter’s defamation suit against Suire was bifurcated, meaning it was to be tried in two parts. The first part, the part just completed, was to settle the question of actual liability. Had Suire been found not guilty of defamation, the second part to determine actual monetary damages would have been unnecessary.

Unfortunately for Jindal’s chances to avoid further embarrassment over the sloppy manner in which the Painter matter was handled, such was not the case and the damages part will be tried next.

Throughout the entire matter, Painter has made clear that he wanted his day in court.

The liability trial was heard in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana before Judge Shelly Dick and a seven-person jury. Following a three-day trial, the jury took about three hours.

Painter was represented at trial by attorney Al Robert, Jr., and Suire by Jill Craft.

The issues in the case first arose on Aug. 16, 2010, soon after Suire filed a complaint with the Louisiana Office of Inspector General (OID) alleging a myriad of allegations against Painter. The lead OIG investigator at the time, Shane Evans, now employed by the East Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office, testified that he met with Suire and that he personally chose to use the words “stalking” and “harassing” to describe the nature of Suire’s complaints in his application for a search warrant.

Painter also has a civil lawsuit pending against OIG which alleges the agency’s investigation, which began in August of 2010, was improperly conducted.

Robert said the jury’s verdict confirmed the finding of an outside investigator hired by the Louisiana Department of Revenue (DOR) under which ATC operates. The investigator determined that Painter’s actions did not violate DOR anti-harassment policy. Moreover, when questioned by the DOR investigator, Robert said, Suire “admitted that Painter did not make unwelcome sexual advances toward her and that he did not request sexual favors or engage in verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature toward her. Inexplicably, the Office of Inspector General ignored this investigation when it chose to move forward with its investigation of Mr. Painter,” he added.

“This has been a long, four-year ordeal to clear my name of the lies and untruths that Ms. Suire—and those working with her—used to damage my character and reputation,” Painter said.

In her instructions to the jury, Judge Dick said defamation requires proof of a false or defamatory statement made to a third person or persons. “A person who utters a defamatory statement is responsible for all republication that is the natural and probable consequence of the person’s statement,” she said.

Suire, in her defense, did not deny making the statements but said rather that her statements were subject to “privilege,” or inadmissible, Judge Dick said, acknowledging that Suire’s communications did in fact “occasion a conditional or qualified privilege.”

Therefore, in order for Painter to prevail, she said, he “must prove that (the) defendant abused this privilege by acting with actual malice.” Such a finding, the judge said, would require that Suire either knew the matter to be false or acted in reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity.

Suire currently resides in Florida.

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The Jindal administration has announced plans to jettison 24 more positions at the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) as a cost cutting measure for the cash-strapped agency but is retaining the top two positions and an administrator hired only a month ago.

The effective date of the layoffs is Aug. 15.

The latest cuts will leave only 47 employees when the agency is relocated to the Claiborne Building basement to share office space with the Office of Risk Management. The Claiborne Building also houses the Civil Service Department, the Board of Regents, the Department of Education, the State Land Office and the Division of Administration.

The layoff plan submitted to the Department of Civil Service on June 14, said there was insufficient work to justify all 71 positions.

Affected by layoffs are eight Benefits Analyst positions, three Group Benefits Supervisory spots, one Group Benefits Administrator, seven Administrative Coordinators, an Administrative Assist, two Administrative Supervisors, one IT Application Programmer/Analyst and one Training Development Specialist.

OBG Chief Executive Officer Susan West, one of those being retained, will be making a physical move back into her old offices. She previously worked for ORM before that agency was gutted by Jindal’s grand privatization scheme and she moved over to OGB.

West, who makes $170,000, and Interim Chief Operating Officer Charles Guerra ($107,000) are not affected by the layoff nor is Elis Williams Cazes ($106,000)) was appointed as Group Benefits Administrator on June 23.

Cazes was previously employed by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana which serves as the third party administrator of the OGB Preferred Provider Operation at a cost to the state of $5.50 per month per enrollee, which computes to an amount a little north of $70 million per year.

Her position was created—and the requirements reportedly written especially to her qualifications—as the Medical/Pharmacy Administrator responsible for benefit plan management and vendor performance with the primary responsibility to “continuously monitor medical and pharmacy benefit plans to seek out modification of plans or implementation of new plans that reduce claims costs and provide efficiencies for the state and plan participants,” according to the justification given for retaining her position.

Well, we can certainly see where her position is as indispensable as West’s and Guerra’s.

All this takes place at a time whe OGB’s reserve fund has dwindled from $500 million at the time of the agency’s privatization in January 2013 to about half that amount today. Even more significant, the reserve fund is expected to dip as low as $5 million by 2016, just about the time Jindal leaves town for good.

Completing the trifecta of good news, we also have learned that health benefits for some 200,000 state employees, retirees and dependents will be slashed this year even as premiums increase.

In June, West broke the news to the OGB employees. She erroneously said the 47 remaining employees would be reassigned other duties and some might see pay reductions and that those with seniority could bump junior employees in desired positions. The Civil Service Department, however, said salaries could not be cut and bumping is no longer allowed.

Isn’t it nice to know your agency director knows the procedures?

Employees were told that letters would go out between July 1 and July 15 to those who were being laid off. On July 7, they were told the letters would be delivered by hand on Friday, July 11. None came. On the following Monday (July 14) confusion of the order of the day as Deputy Commissioner of Administration Ruth Johnson sent emails to those affected and instructed them to attend a noon meeting in the OGB board room. Upon entering the board room, each person was handed a packet that informed them that Civil Service had not approved the layoffs.

During the meeting, according to one who was there, West kept repeating, “I get this. I’ve been where you are. I get this. However, there are worse things. It’s not like losing a child. I get this.”

Way to soften the blow, Susan. You might have reminded them that the fighting between Israel and Palestine isn’t so bad because there’s also an Ebola outbreak in Africa or that while you’re losing your home to a hurricane storm surge, some people are having to endure heavy wind damage. Or better yet, take them all to a showing of The Fault in Our Stars. That’ll cheer them up.

“It was the ‘I get this’ and comparison of losing a job to losing a child that infuriated the OGB state employees,” the employee said. “This is the worst thing in their lives right  now, some are battling cancer and working; some have children and grandchildren to feed; some live paycheck to paycheck; some are taking care of the elderly and family; all have bills, rents/mortgages, school tuition, etc.”

But you really can’t blame Susan. She previously worked for ORM and was among those present when ORM Director Bud Thompson broke the privatization news to his employees by standing before them, grinning, as he said, “I still have my job.”

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The $500 million savings report by Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) was finally released on Monday only minutes before adjournment of the 2014 legislative session—and, conveniently for the administration, too late for critical feedback from lawmakers.

http://doa.louisiana.gov/doa/PressReleases/LA_GEMS_FINAL_REPORT.pdf

So, what makes this one any different than the others, given the fact that the A&M report acknowledges that Louisiana “has a long history of performance reviews, dating back to one performed by the Treen administration in the early 1980s?” Well, for one, the punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors contained in the report indicate that it was thrown together rather hastily to satisfy a state-imposed deadline for completion.

Of course the report was cranked out by “experts,” and as an old friend so accurately reminded us, an expert is someone with a briefcase from out of town.

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), the substance of the report was sufficiently ambiguous to render the document as just so much:

(a)    Useless trendy jargon and snappy catch phrases like synergy, stakeholders, and core analytics to give the report the appearance of a pseudo-academic tome;

(b)   Eyewash;

(c)    Window dressing;

(d)   Regurgitation of previous studies by previous administrations that are now gathering dust on a shelf somewhere;

(e)    All of the above.

Three things were immediately evident with only a cursory review of the report:

  • Two offices that have been privatized by the administration as a means of savings and efficiency—the Office of Risk Management and the Office of Group Benefits—were subjected to rather close scrutiny by A&M which identified a host of ideas to make both offices more cost efficient. And we thought all along the administration had assured us of great cost savings and efficiency as its reasons for privatization in the first place. Yet A&M, in its report, claims its recommendations can save OGB another $1.05 billion while ORM can save an additional $128 million through implementation of recommendations contained in the report.
  • While A&M met extensively with and took suggestions from state employees who were tasked by the administration with coming up with savings ideas as far back as last September, not one word of acknowledgement is given to those employees in the report, prompting one employee to wonder, “Why the hell can these New Yorkers take my ideas and work and resell them to the state?” Of course the report did give a tip of the hat to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols for her assistance in overseeing “all aspects of the state’s participation.” We suppose that will have to suffice.
  • Though virtually every office operating under the auspices of the Division of Administration came under the watchful eye of the A&M suits, not a single recommendation for increased efficiency and/or cost savings was offered up for the Governor’s Office itself. The closest A&M got to the governor’s office was the Office of General Counsel, the legal office of the Division of Administration. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from that is that the Governor’s Office is already operating at peak efficiency and minimum waste.

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.

The report acknowledged that Louisiana already has the highest Medicaid recovery rate in the nation with $124 million in improper payments recovered but nevertheless listed as one of its recommendations that the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) “reduce improper payment in the Medicaid program.”

Seriously? Who would’ve thought that might be a way to save money?

Other suggestions included in the study by agency and projected savings (in parentheses):

DHH ($234.1 million)

  • Establish more cost-effective pediatric day health care programs and services;
  • Maximize intermediate care facility (ICF) bed occupancy rates;
  • Shift the administrative management of uninsured population from state management organization to local governing entities (Municipal and parish governments better take a long, hard look at that recommendation);
  • Improve the process and rate of transition of individuals with age-related and developmental disabilities from nursing facilities and hospitals. (So just where are those age-related and those with developmental disabled individuals being transitioned to? Are they to be removed from state facilities as a cost-saving move? And they accused Obama of creating death panels with the Affordable Care Act?)

Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) ($99 million)

  • Expand advertising revenue for roads, bridges and rest stops;
  • Reduce the construction equipment fleet;
  • Convert some of vehicle fleet to natural gas (for this we needed a consultant?)
  • Reduce cost overruns with quality assurance/quality control engineering firm (another consulting contract);
  • Utilize one-inch thin asphalt overlay (and after reducing the construction equipment fleet we can change the names of our state routes from highways to obstacle courses).

Department of Corrections: ($105.3 million)

  • Expand certified treatment and rehabilitation program;
  • Expand re-entry program;
  • Increase use of self-reporting.

Department of Revenue and Taxation ($333.4 million)

  • Re-build audit staff positions depleted because of retirements and hiring freezes;
  • Increase compliance efficiency and reduce backlog of litigated cases

Department of Public Safety ($45.4 million)

  • Centralize state police patrol communications
  • Consolidate state police patrol command position;
  • Optimize state police patrol shifts
  • Expand Department of Public Safety span of control.

Office of Juvenile Justice ($44.2 million)

  • Increase probation and parole officers’ caseloads (Seriously? Do these clowns have even a remote idea of what these officers’ job is like? The caseloads have increased steadily and there have been no pay raises for what, five years now? For even suggesting that, those A&M suits should be horse whipped with a horse.);
  • Relocate youth from Jetson Center to other Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) facilities (so, just how out of touch was A&M to have not known the Jetson Center was closed in January?);
  • Increase OJJ span of control.

Department of Children and Family Services ($2 million)

  • Continue to implement innovative strategies intended to reduce;
  • Safely decrease the time children spend in state custody.

Louisiana Economic Development ($142.9 million);

  • Adjust fees for inflation;
  • Enhance review process for Motion Picture Tax Credits;
  • Enterprise Zone benefits and audit review process;
  • Consolidate Louisiana Economic Development (LED) offices into one government-owned facility (What? No privatization?).

Human Capital Management ($65.9 million)

  • Creation of agency workforce and succession plans;
  • Redesign of job families through creation of a competency model;
  • Improve the administration of Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) across agencies;
  • Review overtime policies;
  • Increase span of control for agency supervisors.

Office of General Counsel ($3.825 million)

A&M noted that the Office of the General Counsel (that would be the in-house legal counsel—they hate being called that—for the Division of Administration) “is responsible for ensuring that the commissioner’s statutory duty to respond to public record requests in a timely and legal manner is carried out.”

This was a favorite part of the entire report for us. The DOA Office of the General Counsel has historically delayed responding to public record requests of LouisianaVoice far beyond any reasonable—or legal—time limits. Louisiana’s public records statutes require an immediate access to public records unless they are unavailable in which case the custodian of the record must, according to law, respond in writing as to when they will be available within three working days. It is not at all unusual for the Office of the General Counsel to drag his feet for weeks on end before producing requested records.

But A&M has solved that knotty little problem by pointing out that as the custodian of the DOA’s public records, “it is the commissioner’s (Kristy Nichols) responsibility to receive and process public records.”

A&M’s recommendation that the Office of the General Counsel can generate its five-year cost savings simply by:

Increasing the organization efficiency of the office, ($1.975 million) and

Increasing the efficiency of document review process and reducing internal and external attorney costs ($1.85 million).

That, of course, raises the burning question of what will happen to Jimmy Faircloth?

Other suggested savings came under:

  • Procurement ($234.8 million);
  • Facilities Management and Real Estate ($70.9 million), and
  • Provider Management ($2.2 million).

“I am so proud of this report,” gushed Nichols. “These are real, common sense solutions that will not only save money for the people of Louisiana, but will improve the way we operate.”

Question, Kristy: If they are such “real, common sense solutions,” why has this administration in six-plus years experienced this epiphany before now?

Another question: If these suggestions, which you say were “thoroughly vetted,” are going to save money for us and make our lives better through better operations, where has Jindal, his cabinet secretaries, undersecretaries, deputy secretaries department heads, managers and great legal minds been all this time? Wasn’t it their job to give us the biggest bang for the buck? (Oops, that’s three questions.)

Oh, well, let’s go for broke here. Fourth question: Who “vetted” these wonderful ideas? If the vetting was done by those already on the state payroll, why didn’t those employees perform the task in the first place instead of blowing $5 million on this report that a second year economic major at LSU could have written?

Fifth question: Does the administration—and by extension, A&M—hold employee morale in such low regard that it was not considered as a factor in facilitating more efficient job performance across the board? Improved employee morale would seem to be conducive to cost savings, yet it was never addressed even once in the entire 425-page document. That omission speaks volumes.

And finally, if you are “so proud of this report,” why was it that you reportedly tossed an A&M representative out of your office with the admonishment that he’d better find something after he initially reported to you that his consulting firm was having trouble coming up the $500 million savings?

Could this explain why some of the “savings” appear to have been plucked out of thin air?

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Did Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols violate state law when she approved an amendment to the Alvarez & Marsal (A&M)?

In May of 2011, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro) sharply criticized the Division of Administration (DOA) for DOA’s approval of a $6.8 million contract amendment for F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA), the firm that initially took over the operations of the Office of Risk Management.

Fannin and other members of the committee were upset that DOA did not seek approval of the contract amendment from the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB).

Things got tense as Fannin tore into Assistant Commissioner of Administration Steven Procopio. “All I’m seeing here is where FARA had a $68.2 million contract that somehow went to $74.9 without anyone’s coming to the … Committee … for approval,” Fannin said.

The JLCB was the committee that approved the original $68.2 million contract the year before. “Isn’t a contract a contract?” Fannin asked.

“It is until it’s amended,” Procopio said in typical administration double-speak. “Then it’s another contract.”

It was at that point that Patti Gonzales, Assistant Risk Director for ORM stepped up to the plate to rescue Procopio before he could do any further damage.

“We are allowed one amendment up to 10 percent (of the original contract amount) without legislative approval,” she said, adding that the Office of Contractual Review approved the amendment.

Suffice it to say committee members weren’t very happy to learn that under state law, the Office of Contractual Review may approve contract amendments of up to 10 percent one time without legislative concurrence.

Fast forward to January 2014.

Nichols announced last week that the $4.2 million contract with A&M had been amended by $800,000 to a nice round $5 million.

That’s the controversial contract under which A&M is charged with finding $500 million in state savings. If the firm’s initial report is any indication, the contract is going to go pretty much the way everything else this administration has done—that is to say, bad.

But wait. An $800,000 amendment to a $4.2 million contract?

Really?

Excuse us for questioning the validity of the amendment, but according to our math, that’s a 19 percent amendment. Of course we went to public schools in Louisiana, so Jindal may be able to discredit our figures.

But wouldn’t the approval of a 19 percent amendment without concurrence from the JLCB be in violation of that obscure law?

Well, the Office of Contractual Review is required to give its stamp of approval to the amendment.

But wait. The Office of Contractual Review is part of DOA and as such, takes its marching orders from Nichols who takes her marching orders from Jindal who takes his marching orders from…Timmy/Taylor Teepell? ALEC? Bobby Brady? Pick one.

But it was clearly stated back in 2011 that the law allows a one-time 10 percent amendment to contracts without JLCB concurrence.

To paraphrase Rep. Fannin, isn’t 10 percent 10 percent?

Isn’t the law still the law?

Well, that depends.

Remember that whiteboard sign in one of the DOA offices we alluded to on Jan. 23? That’s the one that says, “Do not ask about the law. Do not research the law.” (If there is a functioning brain cell left in this administration, assuming there ever was one, that message most probably has been erased by now.)

And then there was the consultant a few years back who told DOA officials, according to sources present at the meeting, to not let the law stand in the way of the administration’s objectives.

So, what are a few percentage points among friends?

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