This is the way it’s supposed to work but so seldom does. A government employee reveals corruption in his or her agency to a newspaper which then publishes an exposé which in turn leads to prosecutorial action for the miscreants and maybe even a Pulitzer Prize for the paper. But since there’s no award, prestigious or otherwise, for those who hand these tips to the press, it’s good to know that the story also prompts legislative reform, including enactment of greater protection for the first and indispensable link in the sequence of accountability moves: the vulnerable whistleblower.
The particulars are reported by Lisa Rizzo for CalCoastNews.com.
In response to bonus and incentive fraud plaguing the California National Guard and revealed by a federal auditor working at Camp San Luis Obispo, reform may soon be enacted if three “urgency” bills moving through the state legislature become law.
The legislation was initiated following the exposure of upwards of $100 million in potential fraud that was uncovered by Capt. Ronald Clark, who as a federal auditor was hired by the Guard to investigate claims certified by the United States Property and Fiscal Office (USPFO) in San Luis Obispo. He soon became a whistle-blower when he leaked the scandal to the Sacramento Bee and federal investigators to prevent a cover-up.
Deemed urgent, three California bills sponsored in part by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) and Sen. Lou Correa (D-Central Orange County) are moving through the state legislature and facing little public opposition as of yet.
Senate Bill 921 would require the Governor to appoint an inspector general, operating independent of the chain of command, to oversee the California State Military Department.
The bill is in direct response to the overpaying of the state’s adjunct general who was in power until 2010. Clark, who blew the whistle that exposed financial and management misconduct within the California National Guard, gave documents to the Sacramento Bee that showed Major General William H. Wade II collected excessive dual pay from the state and federal government for the same day’s work.
If approved, SB 921 would also prohibit retaliation against whistle-blowers, like Clark, and those who make allegations of misconduct. In addition, it would provide further protection by allowing exemptions under the California Public Records Act to prevent public disclosure of their identity.
Becoming a whistle-blower cost Clark two careers: one as a federal auditor, the other as a member of the Guard, he said. Several months ago he moved from Avila Beach to the Los Angeles area to obtain work in the private sector. He testifies as needed before the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Sen. Correa, who is the Chair of the Committee, says he applauds Clark’s bravery for stepping up and making sure attention was drawn to the questionable activities in the Guard.
“I have nothing but the highest respect for whistle-blowers,” Sen. Correa said. “It is very easy to say no to strangers but it is very difficult to stand up as a human being against those you know.”
The second part of the reform package, marked as urgent, is Senate Bill 806 which would extend the statute of limitations for the recovery of over-payments to state guard personnel from three to six years from the date of payment.
As a result of Clark’s audit, “egregious” over-payments to members of the guard have been exposed over the last year and investigations by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee continue to find more discrepancies with state military pay.
Prosecutors are currently limited, however, by a three-year statute of limitations, meaning even if fraud is uncovered in some cases it may be too late to recover the loss of funds or indict for misconduct.
The authors of SB 806 say, “If this bill is not passed, then the state loses its ability to recover improperly paid compensation on a price tag that is still unknown but could easily reach over $100 million.”
The third installment of state military reform making its way through the legislature is Senate Bill 807 which would change the law to exclude travel expenses and housing allowances paid to state employees from being included in compensation earn-able for the purpose of calculating a pension. SB 807 may require further revisions and negotiations, as its authors expect it will bring some opposition.
An analysis of the reform bills prepared by its founders says “The SAD [State Active Duty] system is at its worst a “good ol’ boy’s system” or at best an overly used status that is costing the taxpayers of the state more money than is necessary.”
The next hearings for SB 921 and SB 807 are set for Aug. 15. Senate Bill 806 is still going through committees.
Sen. Correa says the bills were born to restore public trust by ensuring everything the California National Guard does is “above board” and “impeccable beyond question.”
“It will give the Guard much more transparency and strengthen the confidence society has in the National Guard, he said.”
“We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to uphold their honor and respect their contribution to our country,” the senator continued.