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.

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Exclusive: Iowa medical director's 45% raise violated state policy

Iowa Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati received a 45 percent raise this summer despite a state policy limiting within-grade pay increases, records obtained by Bleeding Heartland show.

Department of Administrative Services (DAS) Interim Director Paul Trombino III advocated for Pedati to receive the unusually large raise three weeks after informing state agency directors that they could give employees within-grade salary hikes of up to 3 percent.

State rules also require that “any within grade pay increase must be accompanied by a current performance evaluation,” Trombino reminded directors in the same memo. However, staff with the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and DAS did not answer questions about whether anyone has formally reviewed Pedati’s work this year.

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Five unanswered questions about Iowa governor's staff salary payments

Governor Kim Reynolds has defended her decision to use nearly $450,000 in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to pay salaries and benefits for her permanent staffers.

But her comments at a September 16 news conference, along with information her staff provided to some reporters afterwards, left several salient questions unanswered.

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Exclusive: Iowa governor used CARES Act funds to pay staff salaries

Governor Kim Reynolds directed that nearly $450,000 in federal funding the state of Iowa received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act be used to cover salaries and benefits for staff working in her office.

According to documents Bleeding Heartland obtained from the Iowa Department of Management through public records requests, the funds will cover more than 60 percent of the compensation for 21 employees from March 14 through June 30, 2020.

Reynolds has not disclosed that she allocated funds for that purpose, and reports produced by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency have not mentioned any CARES Act funding received by the governor’s office. Nor do any such disbursements appear on a database showing thousands of state government expenditures under the CARES Act.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four requests for comment over a two-week period.

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