Idaho state government and technology contracts don’t mix.
Yet another instance of cronyism surfaced last week, exposing the state’s broken system of insider favor and political gift giving.
It’s the worst form of government, one that gives favor and taxpayer cash to the well connected and influential.
Boise erupted in controversy last week when news broke that Your Health Idaho board member Frank Chan resigned from his post to accept a $375,000 consulting gig with the state health exchange. Executive Director Amy Dowd personally approved the deal with Chan, without submitting it to a formal bidding process by the health exchange.
State House of Representatives Speaker Scott Bedke called the deal “indefensible” and state senators demanded the contract’s repeal.
Chan suddenly withdrew from the agreement Monday as lawmakers lined up against him. The health exchange board responded Tuesday by gutting Dowd’s power to unilaterally dole out contracts, ruling that anything costing more than $15,000 must survive board vetting.
Both are right-minded moves and we’re shocked the health exchange board permitted Dowd to have such power over the purse strings in the first place.
But the real issue is that this sad story happened at all.
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s office was aware of Chan’s contract, Otter’s office told us this week. But instead of demanding an open bidding process, Otter and his staff were merely concerned with making sure Chan tendered his resignation from the exchange board.
This situation follows other allegations of cronyism earlier this year, when state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna was beaten up after awarding a broadband contract to a political ally’s firm.
Dowd defended her move by arguing that the glitch-ridden Your Health Idaho website had to be updated as soon as possible in order to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act. Transparent government is apparently too clunky when things really need to get done, by her logic.
Dowd built her defense while the buggy federal website was getting attacked from all sides and President Obama was trying to muster the nation’s best programmers to fix it. The White House wouldn’t have cared too much had the overhaul of Idaho’s state site been a little late.
It is unnerving that Otter and his staff didn’t sink this from the outset. The fact that Dowd still remains in her six-figure job is upsetting. Situations like this are too often the norm in Idaho, and that is infuriating. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Idaho needs an independent oversight body that reviews state contracts and other ethical issues. Picking such a powerful oversight body wouldn’t be easy, especially if it’s to have any semblance of untainted credibility. Perhaps a representative of the majority and minority caucuses from both legislative houses and the Governor’s Office could staff the powerful oversight body we propose. That way, it would be composed of disparate political factions weighing in and keeping the public informed of the questionable deals weaving through Boise.
Most states have public integrity or ethics commissions. Idaho — one of the few without such an oversight body — desperately needs one.
Idaho is clearly the land of political favor. It’s time for those who have promulgated this farce to do their jobs and fix it.