BOISE – With tens of millions in legal fees, contract bailouts, settlements and more adding up for the state, it’s time for Idaho to create an office of inspector general to investigate complaints of waste, fraud and abuse in state government, Idaho’s House minority leader told lawmakers Thursday.
But members of the House State Affairs Committee were deeply suspicious of Rep. John Rusche’s proposal, which would set up the office under the governor. Rusche, D-Lewiston, said he worked with the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office and legislative staffers to craft the bill. The new office would cost the state $350,000 a year.
Rusche said that cost would be far offset by “the chance to prevent tens of millions in financial loss, and to improve the state’s reputation for transparency and quality government.”
Imagine, he said, “if the prison guards had been able to raise a concern to the inspector general,” referring to the costly contract with Corrections Corp. of America to run Idaho’s largest prison. The state took over the prison after the company was accused of billing Idaho for non-existent staffers.
Rusche continued, “What if Syringa had complained to the inspector general and not been forced to go to court to get a second look at the Department of Administration contract process?” That reference is to a lawsuit from Syringa Networks that invalidated the state’s $60 million contract for the Idaho Education Network, which has cost the state tens of millions in federal funds that were supposed to pay for high school broadband services across Idaho.
Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, said lawmakers themselves can respond to citizens’ complaints.
“We already have 105 inspector generals in this building,” he said, referring to the 105 state legislators. “I don’t think we need to add more to it. We’re talking about spending $350,000 a year. From what I’ve seen from government agencies, that would just be a beginning. They seem to grow out of control in no time at all.”
Palmer moved to reject the bill, not even allowing it to have a hearing; his motion failed on a 9-8 vote. The committee then agreed to introduce the measure, clearing the way for a hearing.
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