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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho watchdog agency director retires with praise from public officials

Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations retiring director Rakesh Mohan said the trust that people have placed in his office “gives me goosebumps.”  (Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho Capital Sun)
By Kyle Pfannenstiel Idaho Capital Sun

Forty-eight years ago, when Rakesh Mohan moved from India to the United States, he sought out to be a chemist.

But years later, he found himself doing deep dives into state government programs.

For 21 years, longer than he lived in India, he has directed the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations, an independent agency that conducts critical state government watchdog work – ordered by state lawmakers – that has spurred legislative and policy reform.

To Mohan, the work has been a rewarding public service opportunity.

“The public will pay attention to it. The press will pay attention to it, and something will happen. And I always have said to people and myself that, ‘If we don’t do it, who else would do it?’ We cannot squander this opportunity that we are blessed with,” Mohan told the Sun in an interview last week.

This month, he’s retiring with high praise from top Idaho public officials.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little told the Sun he wishes Mohan a “well-deserved retirement.”

“Rakesh and his team have set a high standard for providing impartial analysis of complex issues and evidence-based recommendations. Rakesh’s efforts have prompted major improvements to state services and meaningfully impacted Idahoans,” Little said in a statement.

Idaho Senate President Pro-Tempore Chuck Winder, R-Boise, called Mohan “disciplined” and “professional” in his work.

“That’s allowed him to be a nonpartisan professional, and get his work done. And people respect that work,” Winder told the Sun in an interview.

Founded in 1994, the Office of Performance Evaluations’ in-depth analysis and recommendations on complex issues – like a shortage of workers for people with developmental disabilities, a troubled mental health facility and issues with Idaho’s child welfare system – have prompted policy change.

“The state should be eternally grateful for (Mohan’s) work. He’s been so dedicated, and committed so many years of his professional services to Idaho,” said state Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, co-chair of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, which orders reports by the office. “His passion and his love of the state has shined through in his work.”

‘What happens if the laws are not right?’

After he couldn’t complete his Ph.D. in chemistry, Mohan got a job as a chemist for the state of Kansas, he told the National Academy of Public Administration.

He received his master’s degree in public administration at the University of Kansas. In 1988, he began his career as an evaluator for state legislatures in Kansas, Louisiana, Washington and, eventually, Idaho.

His passion for the work continued to grow.

“I can see the impact of my work. And it had immediate reward,” Mohan, who turns 68 years old next month, told the Sun.

In Idaho, he imparted lessons from a Kansas evaluation into hazardous waste inspections. “What happens if the laws are not right? If the policies are inadequate? Following the law doesn’t mean that everything is fine,” Rakesh said.

That shift for the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations – toward evaluations that question laws and policies, rather than just analyzing compliance – was one of several he brought to Idaho. And it was well-received, he said.

“Legislators loved it. Agencies loved it. And stakeholders loved it,” Rakesh said.

The approach has made a big difference, Wintrow said, to look beyond “are you doing what we said you’re doing” to “what should we be doing?”

During Mohan’s leadership, the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations “conducted studies that have helped the state improve its services and accountability and save millions of tax dollars in unnecessary expenditures,” the National Academy of Public Administration wrote.

Spurring Idaho policy reform

Mohan said the trust that people have placed in his office “gives me goosebumps.” Because he knows he has to make sure he doesn’t disappoint, he said.

In a 2019 report, the office found staff injuries and a “culture of constant crisis” in a mental illness facility in Nampa called the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center, the Associated Press reported. When the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations followed up in 2022, it found significant improvements, Boise State Public Radio reported.

The office’s work also helped spur a bill by Wintrow, signed into law this year, to allow for shortened, temporary holds for people in neurocognitive crises.

A new law will establish a new watchdog agency to handle child welfare complaints. This year, an Office of Perfromations Evaluation review found Idaho is one of seven states without such a role, InvestigateWest reported.

That follows reporting by InvestigateWest of child abuse and neglect allegations at state-licensed Idaho facilities. Lawmakers also ordered the Office of Performance Evaluations to investigate oversight of Idaho’s youth treatment homes, InvestigateWest reported.

This month, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s new director, Alex Adams, announced an emphasis on child welfare, Boise State Public Radio reported.

A report this year into Idaho’s coroner system revealed Idaho’s autopsy rates fail to meet national standards, the Idaho Statesman reported. Wintrow said legislators are organizing a meeting this week to listen to coroners’ recommendations following the report.

The Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations’ interim director is Ryan Langrill, a principal evaluator at the agency. Last week, the Legislative Council, a committee featuring legislative leadership, appointed Langrill to the position while the committee conducts a national search for a permanent director.

Langrill has worked at the Office of Performance Evaluations for a decade, the Idaho Press reported.

In retirement, Mohan said he plans to continue to play an active role in professional associations and find a part-time teaching position.