But Roemer swallowed his pride and made one request to his political nemesis: don't dismantle the Office of State Inspector General. Roemer created the OIG during his first year in office to ferret out fraud and corruption. An independent investigative branch that answers only to the governor, the office made headlines in its infancy by uncovering contract irregularities, falsified documents and other curiosities in state government.
"I didn't know if he was going to do it," remembers Roemer. "Edwards didn't like second opinions or watchdogs or oversight."
Edwards relented and kept the OIG on the books ' with some exceptions. In classic Edwards style, he prevented the inspector general from investigating him or his staff. Subsequent governors supported the office as well, in a more hands-off manner. But Mike Foster started the disturbing trend of whittling down the OIG's resources, and the office is now a shell of its former self. The number of investigations has dropped dramatically, and the staff has been reduced by half. The OIG's core mission has been altered, and agencies are now admonished behind closed doors, rather than in public reports.
Under pressure in March 2005 to bolster the office, Blanco appointed Sharon Buchanan Robinson to its top post; Robinson previously served as the state's assistant legislative auditor. She now makes $120,000 in the job ' $25,000 more than the governor takes home. But no matter how good the pay, Robinson had big shoes to fill.
Bill Lynch was originally tapped by Roemer as inspector general and held the job until his death in February 2004. Lynch was a modern-day Jeremiah and immediately made headlines with an aggressive take-no-prisoners style he honed as an investigative reporter for 40 years with The Times-Picayune and other publications.
Robinson is the antithesis of Lynch. She is cautious and uses "reactive auditing to proactive assistance," preferring to prevent state agencies from making mistakes rather than calling them out on a regular basis. "Sometimes a watchdog can growl loud enough to keep people away," Robinson says. "They don't have to bite you."
Since taking over, Robinson has only overseen the publication of six investigative reports. Another two are pending approval in the governor's office, and five more are in progress. Those put out this year include investigations of the Orleans Levee District, dental services contracts and the Louisiana Manufactured Housing Commission.
But in the office's first decade, from 1988 to 1998, there were 315 reports sent to the governor for review, an average of 31 each year. More recently, in 2000 and 2001, while Foster was chipping away at the office, reports decreased to 10 and 15 respectively.
One of the reasons reports are running short today is that Robinson handles certain issues through personal correspondence, instead of issuing investigative reports to the media and others through the governor's office. "Some of them don't make the paper and many of them just don't make for juicy reports, but we do keep people out of trouble," Robinson says. "It's just mundane stuff. We are watching the departments' backs, though."
As an example, she cites the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy and $2.2 million in questionable reimbursements it was seeking from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In a letter, Robinson told the board to fix the problem; she won't be conducting an investigation. When asked if the matter involved any criminal intent or wrongdoing, she says it's difficult to tell. "We don't know," she says. "For all we know, some of the $6.4 million that was acceptable (as found by the audit investigation) could have had problems. Fraud is hard to prove."
Historically, most OIG cases are resolved without issuing reports, and agencies are often allowed to take care of discrepancies on their own. An Independent Weekly public records request of recent letters, however, reveals a number of alleged and actual wrong-doings. Some of the accusations described in the correspondence were eventually found to have no merit, while others easily raise eyebrows.
Some of the unpublished letters include:
â?¢ Findings that ADAPT, Inc., a Bogalusa-based nonprofit that receives state grant money, did not track employee hours spent working on grant-specific activities, did not produce certain annual reports for two years and made travel reimbursements without receipts.
â?¢ A review of DOTD's procurement, contracting and invoicing processes that revealed an accounting error where the department nearly paid off a $4.7 million contract with a $22.8 million check. The error was discovered "inadvertently."
â?¢ On one FEMA project worksheet, various divisions of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries duplicated certain charges, possibly used the wrong mileage reimbursement method and included charges for what appeared to be "normal maintenance and repair."
Robinson's management style isn't exactly drawing praise from government watchdogs. Barry Erwin, CEO of the Council for a Better Louisiana, says the OIG is losing some of its effectiveness since agencies no longer have to fear public ridicule. Anything involving investigative work at the OIG should be posted online like everything else and distributed to interested parties, he says.
"At the very least, we need to take a closer look at how we are issuing these reports," Erwin says. "We need to see if we can do more to provide greater public access. The public has a right to see these kinds of things without having to request them."
Reporting has also decreased due to the limited resources of the $1.2 million operating budget and 15-person staff ' the OIG had 30 staffers in 1988. The small band of number crunchers is charged with investigating Goliath-like agencies, such as insurance and agriculture, which collectively employ more than 75,000 state workers.
Prior to Katrina and Rita, Robinson wanted the governor to add more database specialists to the staff to assist with financial investigations, but the hurricanes blew that proposal out of the water. An opportunity to expand the staff, however, has been available to Robinson most of the time she has had the job. When she took the post, Robinson had a vacancy for an auditor. It was temporarily put on hold by Katrina when the office took a $50,000 hit, which was equivalent to the position's salary. The money was soon restored, but the OIG still hasn't filled the post or even advertised for the position yet.
Jim Brandt, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, a policy think-tank, wants the OIG to be more aggressive. "There has been a noticeable decline in activity and visibility in the inspector general's office," Brandt says. "They had a publicly accessible role, and now that has seemingly changed as a result of their current situation. There's even been a change in roles."
The change came in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when Robinson says the governor asked the OIG to start advising agencies on how to properly seek reimbursements for emergency expenses from the federal government. Since then, 50 percent of the office's resources are dedicated solely to screening paperwork that will be sent to the feds. (Gov. Blanco did not return a call for comment for this story.)
The future of the office remains unclear, but there has been a push to make it independent from the governor, who by law can approve or bury every OIG report ' even those dealing with their own office.
"I don't care one way or another," Robinson says. "I never had any interference from the governor."
For now, Robinson will keep running her office like she wants ' focusing on prevention rather than investigation. With this approach, Robinson says entities who ignore her efforts and become targets of full-blown investigations have only themselves to blame.
"You would be surprised how much fraud and stupidity can look a lot alike," she says.
While much of the talk was about whether New Orleans could win a big game — or any game, for that matter — on the road, the conversation in the Saints' locker room was about something completely different.
State health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.
Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama's deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.
Compared to the rest of the country, Lafayette has it pretty good when it comes to the cost and speed of our Internet.
Hello Kitty turns 40; police ambush suspect caught; Knicks surprise Cavs and more national and international news for Friday, October 31, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will consider on Tuesday a revised plan to the transform a block in Downtown Lafayette into a mixed-use residential-retail-commercial development that doesn’t include giving title to the property to the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority, an arrangement the council rejected earlier this month.
Trying to combat the national undertones of Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is traveling the state this week on a sort of pork celebration tour, telling voters about the projects and aid she's delivered to Louisiana.
Ever thought that big, pink Gulf coast shrimp you ordered at the restaurant or bought from the store didn't taste juicy or salty enough? Maybe it wasn't from the Gulf.
The state treasurer won't sign financial documents needed for $200 million in borrowing or for a refinancing of existing debt until he believes they accurately explain the surplus disagreement.
Bill Cassidy voted for 97 percent of the bills signed by Barack Obama.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is joining South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on her campaign bus tour.
A New Iberia man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old girl and scalding her 3-year-old brother.
A district judge decided Wednesday against sanctioning attorney/school board candidate Dawn Morris for her behind-the-scenes role in a lawsuit against Mark Cockerham.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, in the middle of a heavily-criticized rewrite of benefit plans.
Paper cites the former ADA's "experience as a prosecutor, his demonstrated integrity, and his ideas for reshaping the [DA's] office" in urging voters to support Keith Stutes Nov. 4.
Louisiana officials have sent a letter to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene un-inviting members of the group who have recently been to ebola-affected West African countries from attending the group’s annual conference in New Orleans next week.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to find a way to win on the road if they plan to take over first place in the NFC South.
"It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed..."
A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.
Saints fans were to gather, make merry, eat/drink compliments of a new Downtown group and watch the Saints beat Carolina and claim 1st place in the NFC South. But...
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram doesn't see his dramatic spike in production as any sort of validation.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is facing off one last time with her two main Republican challengers before next week's election.
He’s pulling for Knezek and Hidalgo on his end of the parish but issued endorsements in three other districts as well.