Thursday, March 16, 2017

Alaska Ag....the lure of OPM



How heady the thought, how enticing the ideas, the fancies and fantasies, how vast the disconnect between the lure of other people's money, and the Division of Agriculture's responsibility to the public it serves. 

Seldom held to any sort of demonstrable standard of performance, the Division is busy spending, planning to spend, or diligently attempting to get other people's money. In this case, that money arises from the efforts of every working American, and let's not forget-the Daddy Warbucks of Alaska: Big Oil.

No overt shows of parsimony exist at the Division, acknowledging the current fiscal crisis. Oh, they've trimmed a single administration position, for window dressing.  But to increase their viability and show their importance to legislators, they have also hired at least three.  And they are actively working to literally steal programs and other personnel from one department, to their own.  To snare federal funding, federal grants, and state funding and grants. 

Normally this would be of little consequence to most residents. But to those who know, and watch, this particular set of moves is of grave concern.  The push to move the state vet's office under their control is a public safety issue.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is tasked with food safety for the State of Alaska. The state vet's office is actually a crucial, and complex position, and is tasked with safeguarding our food supply, among many other things. They engage in monitoring, testing, import, animal disease prevention and a whole host of other programs, big and small. But the Director is burning up the travel budgets and travel grants, making his case to move the State Vet anyway.

Five or six trips to Juneau, complete with air fare, per diem and other expenses, plus the normal entourage of at least one or two other Division employees....yessiree, they're acutely conscious of their budget constraints  And that is not all the DOA spends on, either.

There is now just one person administering the ARLF program. The line item for that is $495,700. A half a million dollars a *year* to service what? 100 loans? Is this reasonable to anyone?   After all, that does not include any ongoing losses caused by the malingering presence of MMM&S either. That slaughter plant is still fully on the State's books, as no word has been made public otherwise. Keep  in mind, that those losses (if any) are charged back to the borrowers in the ARLF, making for a net zero cost to the general fund, or any other fund within state government.  The ARLF recently had two persons tending the books and all that related paperwork (sure to be substantial) but the Division cut one position, in a show of economy. *cough cough*

Here's another little factoid about state government employee positions. Are you aware that a number of them are percentages? That is, if a person is undertaking other work, for another project or office within state government, then that other office or project pays for that portion. In this way, a person might get a base salary for 80 percent for the primary PCN, and the balance in percentages from others. (And you thought your record keeping was complicated? Ha!)  The end result is that division and agency heads can jockey for that additional funding, using those MOUs mentioned previously. Some comes direct from the "DGF" (Designated General Fund), and all the other sources, including federal grants.

It's been said that a forensic audit of the DOA would reveal the depth of corruption and the breadth of incompetence and futility, and would cost more than the Division's entire annual budget to perform.

It needs doing, a thorough forensic audit, whose cost is a pittance against the spending of the legislature in this, or any other year. Just go look at the previous legislative audit, and consider where the DOA is today.....years later.  And it should include the *entire* record on DOA travel, for the past five years. 

There are some frequent flyers there that need their wings clipped, yes indeed.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Alaska Ag....The Juneau Games, Ch. 2

As the state legislature hammers away at the budget deficit, the Division of Ag is still busy spending money.

The expenditures include (and it's necessary to add "but are not limited to") the following:

A new hire for the meat plant, complete with specialty training. Recent public information relays that the actual closing on the plant is hoped for in June.

What is not relayed or part of public information is this tidbit: The land sales guy has been seen driving the convicts to and from the plant. It seems the Division of Ag is unaware that DoC training is *required* for transport?  Another point: Land sales people are paid to perform duties within their position description. These positions are paid for by monies raised by the sale of State lands. So what funds are being used to pay him? And what did they report to the Legislature about this?

Sending two people to a conference in the L48 on the subject of FSMA. That's two round trip tickets, plus per diem, for two employees. This information is not publicly available. In fact, if you go to the DOAs web site, their calendar and newsletter were last updated in 2016.  What kind of public information gateway is this, when the public has to spend money on a public information request every time they want to know what the DOA is doing?

Was sending people to the L48 a necessary expense? 

No, it was not. 

The Division of Ag does not have statutory control over food safety. It rests exclusively with ADEC. Where there is a fully qualified person, as it happens. 

Director Keyes told legislators that there was a "plan" to move the state vet's offices back under the Division roof.  This is an untruth, as no such plan evidently exists, just like no authorizing MOU is known to exist between ADEC and the Division of Agriculture.  Based upon this nonexistent plan (isn't it ironic that one plan is shelved, yet another is made of fairy tales?) Director Keyes hired a person to staff the FSMA program....and that newly arrived Missouri transplant hopped on a plane to attend the above conference.

The takeaway is this: To move the state vet's office into the Division of Ag requires a change in statutes. You know, committees, hearings, public comments, the whole works. Typically these changes can take two sessions (or more) of legislative work to complete. The folks in Juneau are pretty busy figuring out where and how to put their hands in our collective pockets, so any significant activity on the move is.....unlikely.

However, they could enter into a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). This is a mechanism whereby one department or office, can agree with another, over staffing and responsibility, etc. At stake here is some federal funding for food safety. It isn't a lot, but enough to justify (seemingly) hiring a new person or two for the Division of Ag.....even though an already qualified, expert person is already on payroll.

Now, about those inspections, referred to by Director Keyes. Not all inspections are equal. (and under FSMA there are only a handful of companies that qualify for those) and most appear to be field inspections of crops. These are not the same, not even close. One would hope that the Director understood he was reporting false information to the legislature-or at the very least, allowing them to reach an erroneous assumption without correction.

The Division has also wandered into uncharted waters, by hiring yet another person to establish certain inspections....inspections that are currently under the state vet's office. So that is two positions filled, for a program that does not yet exist, nor has a MOU.

By providing existent staff, the Division can then argue that they already have qualified people, therefore why not move the State Vet's office?

So here is a little more to consider on this particular issue:

How counterproductive would a Division of Ag FSMA MOU be? We have the people trained and already operating out of DEC, yet DOA is hiring and sending people for FSMA training! Where is the money coming from to train and pay for a position if an MOU, statutory authority, and federal funding are yet to be granted to DOA?

How did these positions get approved without funding or authority?


Now, wouldn't it be interesting, to see a complete accounting of payroll for the DOA?