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Posted on Sun. Aug. 17, 2014 - 12:30 am EDT

State’s revolving door turning ‘judiciously’

Few former workers granted waivers to give companies help

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana ethics law seeks to stop the revolving door between state workers and companies that benefit from state contracts – unless you get a waiver.

Post-employment waivers can be granted by the head of an agency – or the governor himself – in order to avoid a one-year cooling-off period.

Twenty such waivers were granted in 2013 and eight so far this year.

“Post-employment waivers are being used judiciously – with about 100 given over the nearly 10 years since they were included in the state’s ethics law. That pace continues to be about the same in the Pence administration,” said Christy Denault, spokeswoman for Gov. Mike Pence. “Post-employment waivers allow agency heads to waive a one-year restriction for employees when it is in the public interest to do so.”

During that time, tens of thousands of state workers have left state employment.

Waivers must be filed with the Indiana Ethics Commission, though that board can’t block them.

Inspector General David Thomas – the state’s watchdog on ethics, waste and fraud – said he thinks the current law is good for two reasons.

“First, the agency is in the better position to know the detailed extent of their employee’s involvement and whether the ‘public interest’ is served with the waiver. Second, I think the law is sufficient in that the waiver must be in writing and remain a public document,” he said.

Thomas said having waivers helps defend against a future attack like in Ohio, when the entire post-employment rule was struck down as unconstitutionally strict.

Denault said there is no obligation in the law, but the governor’s office requires all waivers to come there for approval before being issued. Some agencies have not complied with the rule, according to a July 29 memo from the governor’s office to agency heads.

That same memo reminded agencies: “Appearance and public trust matter. If you, as an appointing authority, think reasonable people would view the new employment for a former employee as somehow having influenced the employee in job duties – Do not execute a waiver.”

The memo was issued when then-Indiana Department of Transportation staffer Troy Woodruff was negotiating to leave INDOT for a job with RQAW, an engineering consulting firm that frequently bids on state work.

Woodruff had served on an INDOT selection review team and had signed contracts with RQAW.

Highway department Commissioner Karl Browning could have allowed the move through a waiver, but Woodruff later decided to resign and start his own company.

Department employees have received more waivers since January 2013 than any other agency – seven of the 28.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the agency has more employees than most state agencies. Since 2013, more than 700 people have left INDOT, and seven of them were granted waivers for post-employment.

“Many of our employees are engineers or have years of education or experience specializing in the development and construction of roads and bridges. In general, employment in these fields is limited to government agencies or consultants who do business with these governments,” he said.

Wingfield also said INDOT outsourced more than $800 million worth of work last year, and state and federal law requires these public road contracts to be competitively bid because competition reduces taxpayer cost.

“Limiting the supply of engineers and technical specialists qualified to develop and build public roads and bridges limits this competition,” he said.

One example from INDOT was waived by Pence himself. He allowed then-Commissioner Michael Cline to take a job with Purdue University as vice president for physical facilities.

INDOT has dealings with Purdue, including two major programs involving millions in contracts.

But the waiver from Pence said Cline had only limited involvement with those programs or with any Purdue contracts, noting that INDOT staffers handled most of the work.

The Department of Education issued five waivers in January 2013 – right before Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz was to take office. She had defeated Republican Tony Bennett.

Two of the DOE waivers were issued retroactively to employees who had taken jobs months before with a subcontractor and the College Board Entrance Examination Board, respectively.

In the latter waiver, chief of staff Heather Neal said Jon Gubera “possesses the personal qualities of honesty and integrity that would mitigate any adverse results to the IDOE. His unique personal and professional skills will benefit the IDOE, the citizens and students of the state of Indiana, and assure the state’s responsibilities to taxpayers are property administered.”

Gubera left to be the College Board’s director of state government relations – a lobbyist – for six Midwest states.

Neal declined to comment on the specifics. She was allowed to grant them on behalf of a statewide officeholder.

Another example was former Department of Child Services staffer M.B. Lippold, who left in May 2013 to consult privately. A few months later, the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs asked her to perform about 75 hours a year consulting on a social work project.

Lippold oversaw the project while she was a deputy director at DCS. Mary Beth Bonaventura, director of DCS, waived the rule because the position was not offered during employment with DCS and “could not reasonably be interpreted to have been offered to you to garner any special privileges with this agency.”

A waiver in April allowed Aaron Shapiro to accept employment with Aging and In-Home Services of Northeast Indiana Inc.

While at the Family and Social Services Administration, Shapiro was an audit manager and audited various contracts with the agency. He last audited the company’s contract in 2012.

Denault, the governor’s spokeswoman, said another waiver allowed an employee of the Department of Natural Resources to work with the Nature Conservancy.

“These are the kinds of employment opportunities that the law envisioned in allowing for waivers: positions that employees of the state are well-qualified for and that are in the public interest,” she said.

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