[tabi] Re: Fw: article in the Tampa Bay Times on DBS

  • From: "Daniel Ben Moshe" <danielbenmoshe1@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2012 19:29:43 -0500

Oh boy sounds like the fat is going to be in the fire here soon. If this
story grows legs somebody is in big trouble. I think it's going to get real
ugly I'LL give this a few months.    


From: tabi-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:tabi-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf
Of Easy Talk
Sent: Monday, November 12, 2012 4:21 PM
To: tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [tabi] Fw: article in the Tampa Bay Times on DBS

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Easy Talk <mailto:Easytalk@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>  
To: fcb-l@xxxxxxx 
Sent: Monday, November 12, 2012 4:19 PM
Subject: article in the Tampa Bay Times on DBS

TALLAHASSEE - Looking for a lesson in how government outsourcing is working
in Florida?
Try this: Organizations that win business with the little-known state
Division of
Blind Services can bill taxpayers $58 an hour for travel time to meet with a
person. The same organizations can charge taxpayers $2,000 or more to place
one phone
If the deal sounds good for the groups that win the no-bid state contracts,
because it is.
Why? Because the private third-party vendors largely dictate the terms and
little oversight, former Division of Blind Services employees say.
The state agency with a $52 million budget has largely privatized its
support programs
as a way to save money and better serve a group of 11,000 Floridians in
need, state
officials say.
But the results are mixed, at best.
Employee complaints about the Division of Blind Services have spawned at
least three
government investigations and four whistle-blower lawsuits, all alleging
waste on
some scale.
Blind Services director Joyce Hildreth, who worked at a group that received
contracts before joining the state agency in 2008, defends the division.
Under her
leadership, she says, the division has repaired fragmented relationships
with vendors
while implementing stricter penalties for nonperforming providers. Hildreth,
earns $119,000.
"My expectation of both (the vendors) and the division staff is that they
will work
together to the benefit of the client," she said.
The record, however, isn't so clear-cut.
. . .
An annual summer meeting between the state and 16 Division of Blind Services
offers a window into the uneven influence the groups have over an agency
that is
supposed to oversee them.
Their joint mission is to line up ways to help blind Floridians manage their
from infancy to old age. The division and its outsourced vendors train blind
for everyday tasks from using a cane to pouring water without spilling. The
also operates a program to help blind people find jobs.
At the meeting, state workers and the vendors appear to be business
partners, according
to several current and former employees who have attended. But the vendors
the performance criteria and penalties.
"I tried to get (the vendors) to suggest how we could get a mechanism in
place so
we don't feed their coffers and have poor service," said Jerry Edwards, a
contract manager who was fired in 2010 after he criticized the "lack of
meat" in
the contracts. "The attitude, from Joyce and from (the vendors) of not
wanting to
go there, was a real problem."
Signs of waste are everywhere, former employees Edwards, Julius Kimmie,
Robert Irons
and Mary Ellen Ottman said in separate interviews.
Although the law requires state workers to monitor all 16 providers through
unscheduled visits, the state only visited one vendor last year, documents
Hildreth said the agency monitors the vendors by phone.
Loosely written contracts also allow vendors to make big money by taking
of loopholes, the former employees say.
A provider, for example, is paid from about $2,000 to $9,000 per month for
each person
it plans to serve. The state pays the money no matter how - or how many
times - a
provider helps a client.
So whether a provider makes 10 in-house visits, or just one phone call, the
comes in all the same.
During the 2012 legislative session the division asked for and received more
$540,000 in additional money to provide care for 201 blind babies on a state
list. But the vendors already received funding from nonprofit groups to
cover the
expenses associated with 172 of the same babies, documents show.
What's more, the state pays vendors based on their plans for service,
only time spent and making no attempt to measure results.
"The (vendors) call all the shots," said Ottman, a former employee who tried
to raise
red flags about the contracts to state officials. She quit in September.
. . .
Hildreth says the state actually underpays vendors, which have to raise
money from
outside sources to cover their costs.
The biggest vendors, all nonprofits, include LightHouse of Central Florida,
LightHouse for the Blind, LightHouse of Pinellas and Miami LightHouse for
the Blind.
Top employees make upward of $200,000 per year, according to Internal
Revenue Service
Representatives for the vendors say they're interested in helping blind
people, not
making money.
"Everyone has to remember this is about providing services to people who
need it,"
said Colleen Castille, a lobbyist for the vendor trade group, the Florida
of Agencies Serving the Blind.
Gov. Rick Scott, who has sought to privatize government services at an
pace since taking office, has talked about strengthening contract
transparency and
But state officials have done little to address contracting complaints.
The state's chief financial officer, Jeff Atwater, has audited three of the
of Blind Services' contracts and found them deficient, said spokeswoman Anna
citing "significant issues in the management."
Yet Atwater, whose agency signs the contract checks, only has the authority
to question
the prices after the contracts are implemented. He can't void contracts,
even if
they are bad.
"If state agencies opt not to make critical changes to contracts post-audit,
will be on the losing end," Alexopoulos said.
A May report for the agency's inspector general, which does independent
investigations, criticized Hildreth for inappropriately managing contracts
and punishing
workers. Hildreth says those criticisms are unsubstantiated, both in
interviews and
with her staff.
In the state's complicated management structure, the division is overseen by
Department of Education.
Former Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson, who resigned in August, said
he spoke
with Hildreth about complaints from employees, but not about the division's
procedures. State officials know they need to address contracts, he said.
The question
is how.
State contracts are "a problem across the board, this isn't just Blind
Robinson said.
Pam Stewart, the interim education commissioner who replaced Robinson,
largely agreed.
"We do take seriously the need to look at all of our contracts and make sure
getting the best return on our investment," she said. "We are already moving
in that
Former state employees see it differently.
"I contacted lawyers, my senator, the NAACP, Fox News and the FBI," Kimmie
"But what I found out is . nobody is listening."
Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at (850) 323-0353 or bdavis@
[Last modified: Nov 12, 2012 07:06 AM]
Copyright 2012 Tampa Bay Times

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