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.

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One Iowa government branch follows science on COVID-19

Republican leaders in the Iowa House and Senate declined this year to require face coverings, social distancing, or other COVID-19 mitigation practices in the state capitol. Governor Kim Reynolds and her staff have been spreading misinformation and casting doubt about whether masks reduce coronavirus transmission in schools.

But one branch of state government is following the recommendations of top scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen signed an order on August 27 stating that “All people entering court-controlled areas must wear a face covering,” even if they have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

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Governor's office finally provides document requested in May

Governor Kim Reynolds’ senior legal counsel Michael Boal has belatedly provided a copy of former Iowa Veterans Home Commandant Timon Oujiri’s termination letter. On May 10, Bleeding Heartland asked the governor’s office and the Iowa Veterans Home for records showing the “documented reasons and rationale” for Oujiri’s dismissal, which Reynolds’ staff had recently confirmed.

Boal, who is the records custodian for the governor’s office, did not acknowledge receipt of the request at that time. He also ignored follow-up emails on June 30 and July 23, as did the governor’s chief of staff Sara Craig Gongol and spokesperson Pat Garrett, whom I copied on that correspondence. Staff at the veterans home likewise did not provide any responsive records.

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Iowa concealed COVID-19 testing help for well-connected firms

State officials deployed “strike teams” involving the Iowa National Guard to more businesses last year than previously acknowledged.

Records the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) released on April 26 show seventeen workplaces received COVID-19 testing assistance through a strike team. The agency had stated in January that only ten workplaces (operated by nine companies) had strike team visits. Several newly-disclosed events benefited businesses linked to Governor Kim Reynolds’ major campaign donors.

Iowa used the strike teams mostly during the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 testing supplies were scarce. However, a strike team was sent to Iowa Select Farms administrative headquarters in mid-July, more than five weeks after the state had stopped providing testing help to other business. That company’s owners are Reynolds’ largest campaign contributors.

The governor asserted at a January news conference that the state had facilitated coronavirus testing for more than 60 companies, saying no firm was denied assistance. The newly-released records show nineteen businesses received testing kits from the state, and another nineteen were directed to a nearby Test Iowa site where their employees could schedule appointments.

The public health department’s spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand has not explained why she provided incomplete information about the strike team program in January. Nor has she clarified what criteria state officials used to determine which companies received which kind of testing assistance.

The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett did not respond to any of Bleeding Heartland’s emails on this subject. Reynolds walked away when I tried to ask her about the strike team decisions at a media gaggle on April 28.

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Exclusive: Iowa spent CARES Act funds on governor's office software switch

UPDATE: Weeks after publication, state officials said this payment had been “inaccurately coded to the federal CARES program,” which was “anticipated” to cover this expense but did not. They said the database would be corrected to reflect the coding error. More details are at the end of this post. Original text follows.

Iowa’s Office of Chief Information Officer spent $39,512 in federal COVID-19 relief funds on a project to migrate computers in Governor Kim Reynolds’ office from Google suite to Microsoft Office 365.

Public databases showing expenditures from Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund do not indicate the governor’s office was the beneficiary of that November payment from OCIO to the vendor Insight Public Sector for unspecified “IT Outside Services.” Documents obtained through public records requests show the money covered the cost of the Google to Office 365 migration.

The governor’s office reimbursed OCIO for that expense in mid-December, days after the Reynolds administration was forced to backpedal on other COVID-19 funds spent on computer technology. Earlier the same month, Bleeding Heartland had sought records related to goods and services OCIO purchased on behalf of the governor’s office using money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund. 

The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett has not replied to inquiries about who authorized the initial spending on switching from Google to Office 365 or what funding source eventually covered the cost.

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