Searching for waste and fraud in government would seem to be a win-win for a governor. Yet Lincoln Chafee has received the brunt of a critical backlash by declining to make public Ken Block's report on that subject. In an effort to explain himself, Chafee has released this statement:
A great deal of misconception has been generated over the past several days regarding the preliminary findings of the work done by Ken Block. This work was commissioned by my administration for internal use to find any instances of waste, fraud, abuse, or process failure that could be remedied to save taxpayer dollars. These findings are now being reviewed and are currently being turned over to various appropriate agencies for investigation and process corrections to save taxpayer dollars.
I remain committed to transparency and if, at the appropriate time, a determination is made that publicly releasing the information will not jeopardize our ability to root out fraud and abuse, I will certainly do so. The work with Ken Block, the Office of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Human Services is continuing. Additionally, my FY2013 budget contained funding for an integrity unit within OHHS. Those positions are now being filled and recently an RFP has been issued to contract with a vendor to add an additional layer of waste and fraud prevention to the current system.
I have chosen at this time not to release the preliminary findings to protect our ability to adequately investigate them. As I stated on “10 News Conference,” what should matter to Rhode Islanders is that my administration commissioned this work and is acting on it.
Meanwhile, one suspects it may be a matter of time until Ken Block's report becomes public.
UPDATE: In a joint statement, the RI chapter of the ACLU and Common Cause of RI say this:
“Our organizations are deeply troubled by Governor Chafee’s decision to keep secret a report he commissioned, examining waste and fraud in the state’s Medicaid and food stamp programs. We cannot conceive of any rationale under our state’s Access to Public Records Act for withholding this document from public view.
“The only explanation we have publicly heard is that the Governor does not want to jeopardize potential criminal investigations. But a document that is otherwise public cannot be withheld based on future investigations. In fact, the open records law itself explicitly addresses this issue by providing that “all records initially deemed to be public records … shall continue to be so deemed whether or not subsequent court action or investigations are held pertaining to the matters contained in the records.”
“While it is possible that there may be particular portions of the report that are exempt from disclosure under APRA, the complete withholding of this document is, in our view, a clear violation of the law. The Governor’s decision in favor of secrecy also undermines the goal of transparency in government that he has touted since he has been in office. We urge the Governor to abide by both the spirit and letter of the open records law and release this document to the public.”