Controlling board not given fund details

Published 10:29 am Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Last week, my colleagues and I on the state controlling board, which is responsible for reviewing state government contracts and other agency spending, were asked to give the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services the authority to spend up to $402,291,950 in federal stimulus grant funds over the next 10 years.

The plan is to encourage doctors and hospitals in the state to adopt and use new electronic records technology.

While these dollars may help support some worthy projects, I voted no on the request because there were very few details provided to the board about how the agency planned to manage these resources.

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In particular, ODJFS earmarked more than $2.5 million for administrative costs, $2.29 million of which will be matched by the federal government, to hire 15 new staff and cover costs for staff travel and office supplies.

However, when I asked agency representatives at the controlling board meeting to provide job descriptions for these new employees and give more explanation about how this money would be spent for travel and supplies, their only response was that the federal government was covering 90 percent of these expenses. ODJFS also gave no details about where they planned to get the more than $200,000 in state resources to pay for these administrative costs and had no plan ready if these federal stimulus funds go away.

In addition, no one from ODJFS called or attempted to talk to me in person about the agency’s plan prior to the controlling board meeting.

My office finally got more detailed information on Tuesday afternoon — 24 hours after the board voted.

At a time when our national debt is approaching $13.5 trillion and our state faces an $8 billion budget shortfall next year, we cannot afford to spend state or federal taxpayer funds — whether it is $400 million for health information technology or $2,000 for office supplies — without confidence that they will be spent wisely.

That is why, with so many questions left unanswered at the time of the controlling board vote, I could not in good conscience support ODJFS’s request.

I will continue to work as a member of the controlling board and your state senator to closely monitor state government spending and encourage the good stewardship of taxpayer resources.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.