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Idaho Health Agency Boss Needs To Go Following Embarrassing Audit

Idaho Health Agency Boss Needs To Go Following Embarrassing Audit

Ronald M. Nate, Ph.D.
October 18, 2023

It’s been almost two months since legislative auditors revealed that Gov. Brad Little’s administration forced taxpayers to pay for programs that the Legislature considered too woke to support, and yet so far no one has been held accountable. Nor has it been made clear: Was it malfeasance or misfeasance that contributed to the misallocation of funds?

Whatever the answer, the director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW), David Jeppesen, deserves to lose his job not only for presiding over this boondoggle but also for defending it in the aftermath. State officials must continue their work to get to the bottom of what went wrong at the agency, including whether criminal charges are in order.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Niklas Kleinworth carefully outlined some of the more egregious violations by the Department of Health and Welfare:

  • Funds from the Community Partnership Grant program were used for programs the Legislature expressly rejected because they were tied to the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (IAEYC), which promoted sexualized materials and education for young kids.
  • The IDHW did not collect/provide sufficient documentation for the awards.
  • There were no measures to make sure age requirements for the grants were followed.
  • There were multiple payments to program institutions resulting in sums exceeding the statutory limits per institution, leading to $22 million in misallocated spending.
  • At least 30% of the community grant recipient institutions spent funds on ineligible beneficiaries; some were too young (the grants were not allowed for pre-K) and others were too old (some were well beyond K-12, up to 24 years old).
  • Some of the types of expenses also fell outside the bounds of the grant program (i.e., spending on drone equipment). This unauthorized spending amounted to over $3.9 million.
  • The IDHW took no measures to stop or reclaim those excessive and ineligible expenses.
  • Status reports were not collected by IDHW.
  • The program exceeded the budget set by the Legislature by nearly half a million dollars.
  • Grant payouts were not made before the statutorily required deadlines.
  • The department overspent appropriated grant funding by nearly half a million dollars.
  • Remarkably, Jeppesen, instead of acknowledging mistakes in his agency’s allocations, tried to defend them by saying the legislative limits on spending were minimum amounts, not maximum amounts, because the legislation did not include the word “only.”

Yup, you got that right, Idaho budgets are “merely guidelines” to bloated bureaucrats, to hell with the Legislature and the taxpayer. It kind of reminds me of the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean. In that film, Captains Jack Sparrow and Barbossa infamously said the pirate code is more like a set of “guidelines than actual rules.” Here, the department, at least in statements and actions, follows a similar code of ethics.

To be clear, when I was on the Legislature’s budget committee, we never viewed legislative appropriations as mere guidelines. The numbers and the words in legislation appropriating money to a state agency are, in fact, law.

Governor Little should exercise his duty as chief executive by removing Jeppesen as director and start to restore the public trust in his executive branch agency. If he does anything short of that, then the responsibility falls on the governor himself by his complicity. If that is the case, it’s then up to the Legislature to hold appropriate hearings on the matter, even invoking its subpoena power, if necessary, to get to the bottom of what’s going on in the department.

The problem is so egregious, the Legislative Services Office, based on their audit, took the unprecedented step to refer the matter to the Attorney General’s office rather than merely have the agency and legislature deal with the issues as they do with most negative audit findings. Furthermore, the Ada County prosecutor may need to consider criminal charges against public employees for violating Idaho’s statute on the misuse of public funds, especially given the allegation that grant recipients were friends of the IDHW employees).

Indeed, the Legislative Services Office saw so many problems, they were compelled by law to send their findings along to the Attorney General’s office. From the report: “These findings are serious enough to report to the Idaho Attorney General pursuant to Idaho Code, Section 67-702(1)(e), which states in part, ‘Report to the attorney general all facts which may indicate malfeasance, illegal expenditure of public funds or misappropriation of public funds or public property for such investigation or action, civil or criminal, as the attorney general may deem necessary.’ Illegal expenditure of public funds is defined as the use of funds for another use or other unauthorized purpose than that for which the appropriation was made.”

This is not the sort of matter that can merely be swept under the rug. The will of the Legislature was overtly ignored. The law was ignored. Money was misallocated and misused.

Public trust in the operation of government requires accountability and oversight, and the existence of neither would mean that Idaho is a state where a government bureaucracy can do whatever it wants whenever it wants without regard for the rule of law.

Ronald M. Nate, a senior policy fellow at the Idaho Freedom Foundation, is an economics professor at BYU-Idaho, holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Connecticut, and is a former state representative for Idaho Legislative District 34. Ph. 208-403-3609

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