NORTH KINGSTOWN—In light of a report released last week by Governor Lincoln Chafee this past week uncovering fraud and mismanagement in the state’s food stamp (EBT) and Medicaid programs, Sen. James C. Sheehan (Dist.36—Narragansett, North Kingstown) has introduced legislation which would establish a state inspector general’s office to help bring a higher level of consistency and efficiency to the state’s finances.
“I have had this legislation for close to five years, but given what has happened with the Block Report, it is apparent to many that this time may have come,” said Sheehan. “This is not in response to the report, but when it came out, I thought it was a teachable moment of having someone like [an inspector general], an independent investigator, to root our mismanagement and corruption.”
The office would be independent of any other state entity and would be charged with ‘preventing and detecting fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement in the expenditure of public funds, whether federal, state, or local, relating to any and all state programs and operations as well as the procurement of any supplies, services, or construction, by agencies, bureaus, divisions, sections, departments, offices, commissions, institutions and activities of the state of Rhode Island, including those districts, authorities, or political subdivisions created by the general assembly, the governor, and any court, including any city and town within the state of Rhode Island.’
According to the legislation, an inspector general would be appointed through a majority vote of the governor, the attorney general and the general treasurer for a five-year term. The bill also stipulates that at least one public forum be held regarding an inspector general’s nomination and that, if an inspector general position remains vacant by one month into a new general term, the governor would appoint an individual to the position.
“The inspector general shall have at least five years experience in accounting, criminal justice, or a closely related profession and a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a major in accounting, criminal justice, or a closely related field of study,” the bill continued. “No inspector general shall hold, or be a candidate for, any other elective or appointed public office while an inspector general and for one year thereafter. No inspector general shall hold a position in any political party or political committee, or participate in any political campaign of any candidate for public office while an inspector general.”
Duties for an inspector general would include reviewing ‘statutes and regulations relating to programs and operations’ and recommending ‘policies to help prevent fraud and policies for the conduct, supervision or coordination of relationship, between state and county agencies and other state and local governmental agencies as well as federal governmental agencies and non-governmental entities.’
Sheehan stressed the necessity of the office not being subject to any other state organization in order to ensure that the most accurate and unbiased information regarding potential fraud and mismanagement is presented.
“The office would be independent so that it doesn’t lend itself to the appearance that any one office and branch of government is using [the inspector general’s] office unduly,” said Sheehan.
The inspector general would further have the ability to conduct any investigation regarding fraud and mismanagement within governmental bodies and programs, as well as subpoena powers for any and all records and testimony relating to such inquiries if they are not willingly submitted.
“Any subpoena issued pursuant to this section shall not be made public by the inspector general or any persons subject to his/her direction or by any member of the inspector general’s office designated to hear testimony under this section, and the same provisions with reference to secrecy, which govern grand jury proceedings, shall govern testimony given,” read the bill. “[Violators] shall be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than six months or by a fine of not more than $1,000.”
The legislation requires that the inspector general file an annual report no later than April 1 of each year that summarizes the office’s actions and reports of the previous calendar year and must be made public as soon as it is filed.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Leonidas P. Raptakis (Dist. 33—Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich), Marc A. Cote (Dist. 24—Woonsocket, North Smithfield), Catherine Cool Rumsey (Dist. 34—Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich) and Nicholas D. Kettle (Dist. 21—Coventry, Foster, Scituate, West Greenwich).
“The public deserves integrity in its government, and having an office dedicated to ensuring it will not only root out problems but help discourage them from happening in the first place,” said Rumsey. “The report released last week on Medicaid waste and fraud indicates that those are programs that perhaps warrant the kind of closer look that an inspector general could provide. I see value in having a watchdog agency like this.”
The bill has been forwarded to the Senate Finance Committee.