Thursday, December 08, 2011

The State Of Fraud

When fraudulent activity on the part of state workers was brought to the attention of Governor Dannel Malloy, he let loose a predictable thunderbolt:

“I want to be very clear about something — if anyone in state government is aware of any fraud or abuse in any state agency, I want to know about it. Anyone with information should come forward so we can investigate it, and they should do so knowing that there will be no retribution whatsoever. I know that culture once existed in state government. It doesn't anymore."

The program as set up by the Feds, designed to provide immediate relief to nutmeggers who lost food supplies in a harrowing early winter storm, operated as the social service equivalent of a speed trap. Frauds, some of whom worked for the state, were quickly identified after they had accepted payments to which they were not entitled.

The governor is not the only one in state government familiar with a “culture” that punishes whistleblowers and frustrates responsible state fraud investigators.

Fraud investigation is a thankless chore for a number of reasons.

Once fraud is detected and reported, people lose their jobs, and job retention in Connecticut is of paramount concern to state unions, politicians whose candidacies for office are supported by state unions, and what one might call the culture of recurring budgets.

Fraud detection necessarily involves a return of money to funding sources, either the state or federal governments. And a reduction in funding for the present year will affect funding in the coming year. No one in the state or federal government can be expected to work diligently to reduce budgets, neither those in the federal government who supply funding to states for federally mandated programs, nor the distributors of the funds -- i.e. state bureaucracies -- nor the recipients of the funds. Indeed, the only people who might be expected to send up a cheer at the prospect of spending reductions in programs are taxpayers who ultimately pay for them, and their council is not represented by any of the principals who move tax money through the spending chute.

Truth be told, state fraud investigators and whistleblowers are occasionally punished when they do what is expected of them, because the money they save will not be available for future spending.

The punishment usually is indirect but effective. Many are the ways used by program administrators to discourage whistleblowing. State regulations, constantly evolving, are such a tangle of abstruse nonsense that one or another law or regulation may always be found in the mess and applied, sometimes retroactively, to whistleblowers who threaten the hegemonic culture of corrupt activities practiced by outwardly upright administrators.

That is precisely what happened to Pricilla Dickman, who ought to have been given a purple heart for exposing deficiencies at the UConn Health Center and the attorney general’s office under the sainted Richard Blumenthal. A record of the indignities visited upon her by Mr. Blumenthal’s office may be found here.

That no one is appalled by the thus far successful attempt to destroy Mrs. Dickman is a measure of the force of the retaliatory arsenal confronted by anyone in state government who is so bold as to put his lips to a whistle in an attempt to rout out what the governor is pleased to call a “culture” of corruption.

Part of the culture of corruption has leached into the attorney general’s office itself. The office is by statute bound to represent the state in any litigation involving whistleblowing. At the same time, the office is charged with representing whistleblowers, a clear conflict of interest that should not be allowed to stand. The attorney general’s office should not be permitted to represent the interests of both the defense and the prosecution in litigation matters. When Mrs. Dickman encouraged state legislators to end the practice and withdraw whistleblower oversight from the attorney general office, the full retaliatory power of the state was brought to bear against her. No one doubts Mrs. Dickman will be crushed the end, at which point the lesson will be broadcasted to other state workers who seek to save the state’s honor, not to mention its money: Just shut up.
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