Exclusive: Other agencies covered $900K in governor's office costs

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office was able to spend nearly 40 percent more than its $2.3 million budget appropriation during the last fiscal year, mostly by shifting personnel costs onto other state agencies.

Documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests show that eight state agencies covered $812,420.83 in salaries and benefits for nine employees in the governor’s office from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. In addition, the Office for State-Federal Relations in Washington, DC remained understaffed, as it has been throughout Reynolds’ tenure. The vacant position should allow roughly $85,000 in unspent funds to be used to balance the rest of the governor’s office budget, as happened last year.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four inquiries over the past two weeks related to the office budget. But records indicate that unlike in 2020, federal COVID-19 relief funds will not be tapped to cover salaries for Reynolds’ permanent staffers in fiscal year 2021.

Continue Reading...

Late budget amendment sought funds for no-bid Homeland Security contract

One day before Iowa lawmakers adjourned for the year, the Iowa Senate amended a spending bill to allocate $4.5 million over two years to the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for a sole source contract.

The funding to install a mobile panic button system in Iowa’s K-12 schools could only have been used by Rave Mobile Safety, which recently signed a contract with the Homeland Security department to replace Iowa’s emergency mass notification system.

The Iowa House altered the bill to leave the funding in place without an earmark for a specific product. But the last-minute effort raises questions about whether outgoing Homeland Security Director Paul Trombino III sought the funding to benefit a company represented by one of Iowa’s most influential lobbyists.

Continue Reading...

Why oversight of Iowa's COVID-19 spending just got more important

Three state agencies that play important roles in Iowa’s use of COVID-19 relief funds will have new leadership in the coming weeks.

The turnover underscores the need for lawmakers, state and federal auditors, and the news media to keep a close watch on how Governor Kim Reynolds’ administration spends money Congress approved last year to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Continue Reading...

Exclusive: Iowa governor overspent office budget before tapping CARES Act

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office would have had a large shortfall for the fiscal year that ended June 30 without a transfer of federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, state financial reports show.

Documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests indicate that in mid-September, the state’s accounting system showed $448,448.86 was needed to balance the fiscal year 2020 appropriation for the governor’s office. Reynolds’ chief of staff Sara Craig Gongol invoiced the Iowa Department of Homeland Security for exactly that amount in CARES Act funds shortly before the books closed on fiscal year 2020.

That invoice and an accompanying document on “COVID-19 Personnel Costs” were revised to incorporate language from U.S. Treasury guidance on allowable Coronavirus Relief Fund expenditures.

For many years, during several administrations, Iowa governors have maintained a larger office than the general fund appropriation would otherwise allow by having separate state agencies support some employees’ salaries. But it has not been typical to use hundreds of thousands of federal dollars to balance the books. Without the CARES Act funding, Reynolds’ office would have been deeply in the red during the last fiscal year, even after four state agencies chipped in a total of $357,652 to cover part of four staffers’ compensation.

Continue Reading...

Exclusive: Payment scheme concealed CARES Act funds for governor's staff

Federal funds used to cover salaries and benefits for Governor Kim Reynolds’ staffers were routed through the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, rather than going directly to the governor’s office.

Because of the unique arrangement, state agencies’ databases and published reports on expenditures from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act do not reveal that any funding supported the governor’s office. Instead, some show allocations from Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund to Homeland Security, from which $448,449 was spent on “COVID Staffing” or “State Government COVID Staffing.”

That’s the exact dollar amount Reynolds approved to pay permanent employees on her staff for part of their work during the last three and a half months of the 2020 fiscal year. Other agencies that had staff working on the pandemic response from the State Emergency Operations Center, such as the Iowa Department of Public Health, did not receive CARES Act funding through the same indirect route.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett and chief of staff Sara Craig Gongol did not respond to six inquiries over a three-week period about how these payments were made and recorded.

Continue Reading...
View More...