State Office Spends Thousands Without Clear Results

Lawmakers Not Sure What OFGP Office Does

A three-month investigation by the 6News Watchdogs revealed that a state office is spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars without clear results to show for it and without a full accounting of expenses.

Gov. Mitch Daniels created the Office of Federal Grants and Procurement via an executive order on his first day on the job, Jan. 10, 2005. Daniels said the goal was to significantly increase federal dollars coming to Indiana.

"It is imperative that Indiana be as competitive as any other state in securing federal grants," read part of the 2005 executive order.

Federal grants are vital because they help create and support programs to teach children, to grow food, to build and fix roads and to help treat people who are sick, among other things.

More than six years after OFGP was created, 6News sought information about the office's performance in bringing home crucial federal dollars, but 6News' Kara Kenney ran into several roadblocks.

State information workers had not heard of the office and directed 6News to the federal building. The OFGP website did not list a phone number, address or person in charge.

Instead, the website included a list of government liaisons that was so out of date, some of the contacts had not worked for the state in two years.

One email address was misspelled, and some workers listed as liaisons for OFGP told 6News they don't work with federal grants at all.

6News then asked several state lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, and they either hadn’t heard of OFGP, didn’t know enough to talk about it, or have had a tough time figuring out what the office does.

"It's the old saying about trying to nail Jello to the wall. It’s been very difficult to determine at times," said Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, also a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Pelath expressed concern about OFGP's lack of communication with lawmakers and constituents.

At least nine Republican lawmakers told Kenney they had not heard of the office or did not know what it had been doing.

"I really don't know much about it," wrote Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel.

"Sorry, am not familiar with it," wrote Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek.

Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, responded, "Negative," when asked if he knew anything about OFGP.

"If they would keep (the website) up to date, it would at least be some demonstration they're interested in this office, and I think that's the biggest thing is they seem to have just lost interest," said Pelath.

Records show OFGP spent at least $431,309 since 2005. During the last legislative session, state lawmakers allocated more money -- $165,156 -- for the next two years.

6News is still trying to determine how that funding helps secure more federal dollars for Indiana.

"That’s scary, especially in these financial times when every single tax dollar is so important," said Melissa Madill, an advocate for the Centers for Independent Living, an agency that helps people with disabilities find jobs. The organization depends on federal dollars obtained by the state.

Madill said her clients are just one example of those who can benefit from more federal dollars.

"If this office was created to bring in federal dollars, I would say they haven’t done a very good job so far," Madill said.

A study by the nonprofit watchdog group ProPublica ranked Indiana toward the bottom in federal stimulus dollars received per person, about $1,206, compared to a national average of $1,400.

Federal Funds Information for States, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington D.C., released a study in May 2011 ranking Indiana 40th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, when it comes to federal spending on major grant programs.

"It’s obviously really disappointing," said Madill.

"There's been a real reluctance to go after federal money that might help us here in Indiana because of overall concerns about federal spending," said Pelath.

In March 2011, 6News requested records that would show what OFGP brings in and how it spends its money. By mid-June, Kenney had not received the information and requested an interview with Daniels.

Deputy Chief of Staff Cris Johnston met with 6News on the governor's behalf and maintained OFGP is a priority.

"All the offices are a priority, or else we wouldn't have them," Johnston said.

Johnston indicated that OFGP did not have a director or staff, but one person, Ryan Cole, is paid out of the OFGP funds. His salary is $68,000.

"That’s one of his roles, as well as others," said Johnston.

In the Indiana online government directory, Cole is listed as the governor's director of special projects, but 6News could not find anything indicating his affiliation with OFGP.

When asked about OFGP's inaccurate and outdated website, Johnston admitted the state has work to do.

"We need to do a better job of updating the website," said Johnston. "We’ve done a poor job of keeping those liaisons updated on the website, and we can improve there."

6News asked Johnston why state lawmakers knew so little about OFGP's activities.

"We haven't made a concerted effort, I guess, to put out any public information piece," said Johnston. "We’ve just been going about our daily activities."

Johnston said Indiana has improved when it comes to brining in federal grant dollars, pointing to a supplement to the FFIS study that showed Indiana's rank climbed from 40th to 33rd, if data from fiscal year 2011 is included.

"I think we've improved, and that's what our goal was," said Johnston. "I don’t think our goal was ever to be the No. 1 state in federally supported grants."

None of the documents provided by Johnston in response to 6News records request showed what role OFGP played in securing that money.

Lawmakers and advocates told 6News the state clearly could do a better job and that until they do, will miss out on dollars that could help Hoosiers.

"There has to be some interest and commitment to it, and that seems to not be there at the moment," said Pelath.

6News found a news release from four years ago in which the governor's office touted a $46 million increase in federal grants after OFGP was created, but 6News couldn’t find any similar updates generated since 2007.

In response to 6News' records request, the governor's office provided letters from Daniels expressing his support for federal grant applications.

The most recent letter provided to 6News is from December 2009.

6News requested any documents showing expenditures since the office was created in 2005. The governor's office did not provide those invoices and receipts, but Johnston indicated that in addition to Ryan Cole's salary, OFGP funds pay for office supplies and reimbursements for phone and travel.