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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Best of Bleeding Heartland's original reporting in 2020

My primary goal in running this website is to provide Iowa political news and analysis that’s not available anywhere else. I’m proud of what Bleeding Heartland accomplished in 2020 and want to highlight some of the investigative reporting and accountability journalism published first or exclusively here.

A forthcoming post will review the site’s most popular pieces from 2020, which included many I worked hardest on or most enjoyed writing.

As always, I’m grateful for readers whose appetite for this kind of reporting keeps me going.

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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.

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Federal officials: Iowa can't use CARES Act funds for software system

The state of Iowa’s contract with Workday to upgrade computer systems “is not an allowable expenditure” under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Inspector General informed Iowa Department of Management Director David Roederer on October 16.

The State Auditor’s office released a copy of the letter on October 21. State Auditor Rob Sand announced two days earlier that he had also informed Governor Kim Reynolds and Roederer that spending $21 million on Workday-related costs was “not an appropriate use” of the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

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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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