State issues key financial report, nine months late

More than nine months behind schedule, the state of Iowa has released its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2020. The report was posted to the Iowa Department of Administrative Services website on October 5.

Under normal circumstances, the state would have published this report in late December 2020. However, Iowa State University has had significant accounting problems since switching to the Workday computer system for financials at the beginning of the 2020 fiscal year. State government entities typically submit their fiscal year-end financials to the state by October 1, but ISU was still sending supplemental pieces six months later.

Deputy State Auditor Marlys Gaston told the Iowa Board of Regents last month that state auditors anticipated sending an internal control letter to ISU regarding misstatements or erroneous information in some of the university’s financial statements.

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Governor taps American Rescue Plan for IT project predating pandemic

Governor Kim Reynolds has allocated $13 million from the state’s American Rescue Plan funds for a data project that has been in the works since 2019.

Last year, the governor approved a request from the state’s Office of Chief Information Officer (OCIO) to pay for the Master Data Management Program with $13 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. But those funds were never spent, according to pandemic spending reports and documents obtained through public records requests.

OCIO recently transferred the $13 million earmarked for the data management project back to the agency that administers Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, spokesperson Cayanna Reinier told Bleeding Heartland on September 29. She added that OCIO is “in the process of restarting” the project and “looking forward to moving ahead” with it, now that the governor’s office has approved the use of American Rescue Plan funds.

It’s far from clear this program is an eligible expense under the latest federal relief package.

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Health agency hiring temporary help with public records requests

The Iowa Department of Public Health is hiring a temporary staffer to assist public information officer Sarah Ekstrand in processing open records requests. The job listing says the new hire will help review and update the agency’s system for tracking requests, communicate with members of the public about the status of requests, help refine search terms, provide cost estimates, and review documents to see if they can be withheld as confidential.

The application deadline for the position was September 16. The temporary hire will be paid between $26.61 and $40.50 an hour, for at most 780 hours of work in the current fiscal year. That works out to about 20 weeks of full-time efforts devoted to processing records requests between now and June 30, 2022.

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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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Iowa House district 37 preview: Mike Bousselot vs. Andrea Phillips

Republicans nominated Iowa Department of Management Director Michael Bousselot this weekend to be their candidate in the September 14 special election to represent Iowa House district 37. Bousselot received about 75 percent of the vote on the first ballot; one of his two rivals for the nomination withdrew his candidacy before convention delegates voted.

Bousselot did not respond to phone or email messages on August 13 asking whether he would take a leave of absence from his day job, assuming he won the GOP nomination for the special election. But he and Democratic candidate Andrea Phillips are clearly ready to devote substantial time and energy to the abbreviated campaign.

House district 37 was among the most expensive state legislative races in 2020; Democrats spent nearly $800,000 on behalf of Phillips, while Republicans spent about $575,000 defending State Representative John Landon, who passed away in late July.

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Ethics board again defers to governor on self-promotion law

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board unanimously found that Governor Kim Reynolds did not violate a state ban on “self-promotion” last year when she appeared in advertisements promoting COVID-19 safety measures.

The board reviewed the “Step Up, Stop the Spread” online and television ad campaign, funded through federal COVID-19 relief dollars, after State Auditor Rob Sand asserted in a report that Reynolds violated a state law prohibiting “self-promotion with taxpayer funds.”

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