Springfield, IL (ECWd) –
Once again HFS has been found guilty of violating the Freedom of Information Act. This makes at least three confirmed cases of FOIA violations by this agency, two by court rulings and this new case by the Attorney General PAC office. This particular case, however, is a prime example of how bad things really are in the State of Illinois and the Health and Family Services office and exposes the lengths they will go to in order to keep the truth from the public.
HFS hired a company, CSG, to perform a culture management survey for the purpose of identifying problems within the operations of HFS. Taxpayer funds were spent on this survey. I requested the responses to those surveys and HFS denied their existence to me as well as to the Public Access Counselor (PAC) inquiry on my complaint as I knew they existed.
“The interviews were conducted orally and as a result, the Department has no documents responsive to Mr. Allen’s request.”
Clearly they told the PAC there were no documents responsive to my request. However now we find through the PAC ruling that they not only violated FOIA, they confirm for the PAC there were, in fact, documents. That fact directly conflicts with their initial claim that since the interviews were conducted orally there were no documents.
“These surveys were conducted by CSG of Department staff members. The surveys contain opinions and expressions from Department staff members regarding formulating actions with regard to a particular matter. In addition, the surveys are preliminary in nature and were used to create a final report. These surveys have not been publicly cited or identified by the head of the Department. As a result, the survey notes are exempt from release based on Section 7(1)(t) of FOIA.”
“The Department’s response to this office also contained a copy of its December 16, 2014, supplemental response to Mr. Allen, and copies of the survey notes responsive to part one of Mr. Allen’s request for this office’s confidential review.”
I thought there were no records?
By acknowledging that the surveys contained opinions and expressions as a means of using a FOIA exemption, they have acknowledged the very existence of them and have even provided copies of them to the PAC, which confirms they lied by claiming there were no such records. Their story changed because of another person’s FOIA that identified they had actually seen the documents in question. So instead of providing the very records they initially said did not exist, they take a new position that they are exempt because they are draft notes that contain opinions.
What makes this situation so troubling are the lies being told in order to prevent the public from knowing the truth. Why would they lie about their existence initially instead of simply claiming they were exempt?
As is well recognized, the coverup is always worse than the crime.
Is this FOIA requester’s statement the reason they took the corrupt path of deception by lying?
“I have personally seen the survey while under the employment of Healthcare and Family Services and understood the survey to show items such as the lack of trust of senior managers, waste of taxpayer money and serious issues in program implementation, overall showing a failed program with over ½ a billion dollars at stake.” (FOIA request found here)
Even more troubling is the position HFS took on the first two versions of the Cultural Management Survey. As outlined in the other person’s FOIA request, the Survey showed a lack of trust of senior managers, waste of taxpayer money, and serious issues in program implementation, overall showing a failed program with over 1/2 a billion dollars at stake.
“The Department also denied Mr. Allen’s request for Versions 1.0 and [1.1] of the Stakeholder Assessment, pursuant to Section 7(l)(f) ofFOIA, as those were preliminary drafts and were not accepted by the Department”
Were not accepted by the Department?
How can a state agency pay a contractor to conduct a culture management survey and then refuse to accept the results provided? All indications are that the former HFS employee was spot on. The results in those first two versions exposed so many problems that they could not afford to have that information in the public domain. Such exposure would confirm the problems at HFS of which we have only covered a fraction of. Many of those articles can be found at this link.
How bad were the results found in Version 1 and 1.1?
Apparently bad enough that they are now taking the position they can’t even find a copy of those versions.
“On May 24, 20’16, the Department provided this office with correspondence from CSG confirming that it could not locate versions 1.0 and 1.1 of the Stakeholder Assessment.”
You know it’s bad when people have seen those very documents yet now they have pulled out all the stops and take the position they can’t locate them and get the contracted entity to provide correspondence they can’t locate the very records they were paid to provide. How can a public body not locate versions of taxpayer-funded reports that they acknowledge receiving but refused to accept? The fact they refuse to accept them when provided confirms they had them. What happen to them? Why are we not demanding our money back from the contractor for their inability to produce those records as well?
More troubling is the PAC’s inability to see the game being played by HFS in their attempts to cover up their failings.
The PAC confirms version 1.0 was submitted to the Department on August 28, 2013, and version 1.1 was submitted on October 2, 2013. Since that confirmation came from information in Version 1.2, they side with the HFS’s position that the first two versions were drafts, all while failing to get to the bottom of why those two versions cant be located!
The claim of the first two versions being exempt because they are drafts is totally false! The reason is because HFS clearly stated they were not accepted. How can you NOT accept a draft? A draft is supposed to be a working product so not accepting it makes absolutely no sense. The fact is Version 1 exposed HFS in such a bad light that they refused to accept it and wanted a revised version that was less damaging. CSG provided such in version 1.1 and even that one was unacceptable and exposed to many problems. Three times a charm? The third version, V1.2 was provided and it was that version that was made public.
Does anyone believe an agency has the right to not accept drafts from their contractor? The contractor fell in line and did what they were asked so that they would get paid. They produced the product that management wanted, a version that would not expose management for their failings!
It’s clear that the covering up of malfeasance and corruption that took place under the failed leadership of Julie Hamos appears to continue with HFS under the control of Felicia F. Norwood.
In addition, we once again find that the PAC office has failed the public by not issuing subpoenas to the contractor and HFS and demanding versions 1 and 1.1 be produced. We are confident had they actually read those versions they would see they were not drafts but in fact final products that were not accepted by HFS because it would expose their failings.
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