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Statehouse Beat: State contract sparks investigation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Latest on the Department of Health and Human Resources' imbroglio over the awarding of a $485,000 advertising contract to high bidder Fahlgren Mortine: DHHR Inspector General David Bishop is conducting an investigation into the contract and the placing of three top department employees on administrative leave.

Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants confirmed that his office is assisting Bishop.

"There is an investigation being conducted by the inspector general," Plants said. "I can't comment on or disclose if there's any substance to the allegations or not."

Likewise, Bishop said he could not discuss the investigation.

"I can't give you any type of comment on any of that contract mess," he said.

DHHR's Office of Inspector General has primary authority to investigate reported instances of employee misconduct or illegal workplace activity. The office also investigates matters that involve grantees, vendors or providers that receive agency funding.

Although basically autonomous, the inspector general reports directly to the DHHR secretary, or in this instance, acting Secretary Rocco Fucillo -- which could be awkward, given Fucillo's direct involvement in placing assistant secretary for communications John Law, deputy secretary for legal services Susan Perry and general counsel Jennifer Taylor on paid administrative leave after the three raised issues over the awarding of the contract.

(The three are now going into their fifth week of paid double-secret probation, by the way.)

The involvement of the prosecutor's office would seem to suggest a criminal investigation, but it could also be because the office has subpoena power. (The inspector general's office has limited subpoena power for investigation of matters such as Medicaid fraud.)

From what we know about Law, Perry and Taylor's involvement in the Fahlgren contract, there is no evidence of criminal intent; i.e., that they in any way attempted to raise, lower, or otherwise change scores on bid evaluations to benefit one bidder.

In fact, none of the three participated in bid evaluations, but raised concerns prior to the awarding of the contract that it would look bad to give the contract to the highest of four bidders. They evidently also suggested to Fucillo that it might be good to have some talking points prepared, explaining why the contract went to the high bidder, in anticipation of the inevitable media inquiries.

Fucillo, meanwhile, has told legislative leaders that once everything comes out on the contract fracas, his actions will draw broad approval.

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A lot of DHHR's purchases are exempt from state Purchasing Division regulations, so the timing was ironic that the department concurred with recommendations by the legislative auditor's office to repeal some of those exemptions, in light of DHHR twice botching up bidding for a new Medicaid Management Information System, a contract worth $200 million, minimum, to the winning bidder.

Fucillo, whom we've documented does not spend a lot of time in Charleston despite being acting secretary, did not attend the Aug.14 joint legislative Government Operations/Government Organization meeting where the audit was released.

Nor did he sign the agency response to the audit, a three-page letter dated Aug. 10. Instead, it was signed "Judy Payne for Rocco Fucillo." Payne is executive assistant to the secretary. Unlike Fucillo, she works out of DHHR headquarters at One Davis Square downtown.

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Speaking of, I got a call last week from a retired state employee who was just furious that Fucillo has been charging the state for mileage, and often meals and lodging, when he comes to Charleston.

I explained that he's able to do that under a legal fiction, since he's leaving from DHHR offices at the Middletown Mall in Fairmont, and not from his residence, so it's considered state travel, and not commuting, and is subject to reimbursement.

That's bending the rules to the breaking point, the caller contended.

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Storm recovery efforts by the state Democratic Party from the June 29 derecho are going slowly but surely, to the point where the party hopes to be able to announce a rescheduled date for the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in the near future.

The annual J-J dinner was originally set for Aug. 11.

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Finally, each year at the National Conference on State Legislatures' Legislative Summit, one evening is set aside as States' Night.

Each state delegation arranges its own reception and dinner in the host city, usually sponsored by home-state companies and interest groups, or barring that, legislative lobbyists attending the conference have picked up the tab.

Perhaps it's a sign of the economic times -- or the fact that state businesses, labor unions and lobbying organizations had just been hit up for more than $400,000 in sponsorships as West Virginia hosted the Southern Legislative Conference a week earlier -- but there were no corporate sponsors for the West Virginia delegation's States' Night dinner in Chicago, and also no state lobbyists in attendance.

I'm told Delegate Danny Wells, D-Kanawha, was crestfallen when legislators attending the NCSL were advised they'd have to pick up their own tabs for the dinner -- at least until they can get their travel expenses reimbursed.

(Meanwhile, I'm advised that three delegates registered for the NCLS -- Tim Miley, Charlene Marshall and Ray Canterbury -- did not make the trip.)

@tag:Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.

 

 


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