In need of workers, Maine hires contractors to plow roads

Source: Associated Press, December 13, 2017
 
Worker shortages in Maine have forced the state Department of Transportation to hire private contractors to plow roads.  The Portland Press Herald reports the state Department of Transportation has awarded a contract to the Ohio-based company First Vehicle Services. The contractors will work in southern Maine.  MDOT has struggled to keep highway workers in recent years. The department currently has 50 open positions. …

Tennessee Lawmakers Give Correction Department A Short Leash To Fix Troubled Private Prisons

Source: Julieta Martinelli, Nashville Public Radio, December 12, 2017
 
The Tennessee Department of Correction is getting another year to show improvement. Officials voted to reauthorize the state agency for 12 more months after a scathing audit last month highlighted severe staffing and safety concerns at several private prisons.  The state agency oversees more than 20,000 inmates. About one third of them are housed in facilities managed by CoreCivic, a private contractor formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America.  Inmates, family members and even former employees have publicly called out conditions inside prisons like Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville. The allegations came shortly after it opened last year. …

Related:

State Audit Reveals Serious Staffing Concerns In Tennessee’s Largest Private Prison
Source: Julieta Martinelli, Nashville Public Radio, November 14, 2017

A state audit of the Department of Correction released on Tuesday highlights a number of issues plaguing prisons in Tennessee. The biggest issue is a shortage of correctional officers, which could put inmates and other prison staff at risk. The CoreCivic-managed Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, northeast of Nashville, and Whiteville Correctional Facility, near Memphis, operated with fewer than approved correctional officers and did not follow staffing guidelines required by the state. At Trousdale, which is the state’s largest prison, the audit found critical posts were even left unstaffed on multiple occasions. …

Read full report.

Why Virginia Drivers Are Paying a $35 Toll to Drive Into Washington, D.C.

Source: Henry Grabar, Slate, December 7, 2017

Starting Monday, if you want to drive peak-direction on I-66 inside the Beltway, you have two choices: Find a passenger or pay a toll that has soared as high as $40 this week. It is a peek at the future of driving (and more), in which dynamic pricing will offer access to scarce resources. And it made people very, very angry. … It’s one instance in a wave of new dynamic-toll experiments in Virginia and elsewhere. Reluctant Republicans had made a deal with Gov. Terry McAuliffe to allow I-66 tolling in exchange for widening the highway. Now, they say the rates are “unacceptable” and the timing (after the gubernatorial election) suspicious, and they have called on governor-elect Ralph Northam to clean up the mess. But without a paradigm shift in infrastructure spending, a big, thriving city cannot maintain the delicate balance between moving traffic, well-maintained roads, and cheap commuting for solo drivers. … Toll roads have long been a popular choice for public-private partnerships (and with mixed results). But they’ve crept onto interstates too, thanks to congressional carve-outs that allow tolling to add capacity or make bridge repairs. Trump’s infrastructure white paper called for legalizing the tolling of interstates across the board. … This is good news insofar as it hastens the demise of our wasteful, expensive, and environmentally damaging transportation model. … But this trend also poses thorny questions as the culture of the long commute changes. Once the burden of wealthy suburbanites who had fled the city, long car commutes—especially in high-cost metro areas with lots of traffic congestion—are now just as likely to be associated with service workers exiled from central housing markets or others chasing far-flung employment centers. In most cases, that also means they’ve been denied access to mass transit commutes. …

Group pushes for answers over potential sale of library building

Source: WLWT, December 12, 2017

Potential plans to close the Cincinnati Library’s north building has sparked some concerns, and a local group is demanding answers. The “Our Library, Our Decision!” coalition is on a mission to stop the library from the sale. More than 20 people with the group attended the library board’s monthly meeting Tuesday, expressing their concerns. “We called out the board and administration as, at this point, being basically incompetent and untrustworthy,” said member Charles Campbell. … Including Campbell, 3,000 people signed a petition opposing the potential sale, which the coalition hand-delivered to the board. …

Better data, oversight needed to boost diversity in tech

Source: Bloomberg Government, Chris Cornillie, December 7, 2017

Federal technology contractors may soon need to meet higher standards for diversity or risk losing government business, according to new recommendations from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). In a report released Nov. 30, the government’s top watchdog calls on two government offices, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), to overhaul their efforts to, “combat discrimination and support equal employment opportunity for U.S. workers” in the technology industry. … According to the government’s top watchdog, deficiencies in EEOC and OFCCP data reporting processes challenged their ability to hold companies accountable for meeting employment targets for traditionally underrepresented groups. However, most of GAO’s criticism was aimed at OFCCP, which is responsible for enforcing nondiscrimination among federal contractors. The study found that OFCCP regulations allow contractors to report employment of racial and ethnic minorities using a single, combined metric, rather than reporting figures for each group individually. … Given the national debate on diversity in the technology industry — and in the workplace in general — GAO’s findings could have a significant impact on federal contracting. GAO called on OFCCP’s director to take steps toward requiring contractors to disaggregate employment data by racial and ethnic group. … Perhaps most significantly, GAO’s report may catalyze support for expanding diversity in federal contracting, especially in the IT space. … Perhaps most significantly, GAO’s report may catalyze support for expanding diversity in federal contracting, especially in the IT space. …

Read full report.

New Higher Education Bill Rolls Back Obama-Era Safeguards

Source: Erica L. Green, New York Times, December 12, 2017
 
Congressional Republicans begin work on Tuesday on an extensive rewrite of the law that governs the nation’s system of higher education, seeking to dismantle landmark Obama administration regulations designed to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges and to repay the loans of those who earned worthless degrees from scam universities.  But in its systematic effort to erase President Barack Obama’s fingerprints from higher education, the measure before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce could undermine bedrock elements that have guided university education for decades. One provision alone could do away with the system of “credit hours” that college students earn to complete their degrees. …

Related:

Education Dept. could scale back help on loans
Source: Maria Danilova, Associated Press, October 30, 2017
 
The Education Department is considering only partially forgiving federal loans for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, according to department officials, abandoning the Obama administration’s policy of erasing that debt.  Under President Barack Obama, tens of thousands of students deceived by now-defunct for-profit schools had over $550 million in such loans canceled.  But President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is working on a plan that could grant such students just partial relief, according to department officials. The department may look at the average earnings of students in similar programs and schools to determine how much debt to wipe away. …

States Sue Over Scrapping of Obama-Era Rules on For-Profit Colleges
Source: Douglas Belkin, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 17, 2017

A coalition of Democratic attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Education Department and Secretary Betsy DeVos for not enforcing an Obama-era rule intended to protect students and taxpayers from predatory for-profit schools. In June, Mrs. DeVos suspended the so-called “gainful employment” rules before they took effect. If enacted they would have cut off federal funding for schools where students leave with high debt and end up in jobs with low salaries. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., calls Mrs. DeVos’s suspension of those rules “unlawful” and accuses her of trying to “run out the clock” through a series of delays until she can implement new regulation…..

Continue reading

JEA Privatization Uniquely More Complicated Than Other Efforts Around The State

Source: Ryan Benk, WJCT, December 6, 2017

Following a regular board meeting that saw departing member Tom Petway charge his soon-to-be former colleagues with exploring privatization, JEA’s board chair is calling for a swift examination of the utility’s assets. … Should the board and Jacksonville’s political leaders decide privatization is the right path, JEA would not be the first municipal utility to do so in Florida. In fact, there are even examples of voters deciding to go the opposite direction: From private to public. Still, according to one expert, the massive tentacles of JEA’s electric grid, water service and sewer system — which serve more than 450,000 electric, 337,000 water and 261,000 sewer customers in Northeast Florida — would represent one of the largest and most complicated such conversions in Florida’s history. … After a lengthy 2012 exploration of JEA’s assets and the logistics of the city splitting with the utility, the decision was ultimately made to shelve the privatization idea. The last time an audit of JEA’s value was conducted in 2007, it was pinpointed at $2 billion as a municipal utility and more than $3 billion if it went private.

… Most recently, Winter Park successfully booted Progress Energy (now Duke Energy) and municipalized. Meanwhile voters in South Daytona Beach rejected a similar effort to turn their utility public. Kurry said data on customer satisfaction is mixed. Winter Park voters are generally happier with their choice and so are those in South Daytona Beach. … Just as murky as ratepayer views on service quality, customer perception of pricing fairness is mixed across the sector. …

Dallas district takes steps to operate its own school buses

Source: Mike Kennedy, American School and University, December 4, 2017

As expected, the Dallas school district is moving forward on taking over its own bus operations. The Dallas Morning News reports that the school system plans to pick up the pieces — including 925 buses and over 1,100 employees — from the soon-to-be-shuttered Dallas County Schools bus agency. Running its own in-house busing operations was the district’s most viable option, says Scott Layne, the Dallas district’s deputy superintendent for operations. Voters decided in November to shut down Dallas County Schools after numerous failings, including financial mismanagement, unpaid traffic violations and a questionable business deal involving stop-arm cameras. … According to a district analysis, Dallas is the only one among the state’s six largest school districts to use a vendor for busing, and cost-per-rider rate in Dallas was the highest among the six districts. The size of the district, spanning 384 square miles and parts of 16 different cities, makes it too difficult to find a transportation contractor for 2018-19, Layne says. Any outside vendor could take years to get online, needing time to assemble a fleet of buses and hire staff. … Layne expects the district will hire many of bus agency’s existing staff, including bus drivers, dispatchers, mechanics and monitors. At this point, it’s unclear how many of the 925 buses allocated to the Dallas district are leased by the bus agency, and it is uncertain whether those leases would be considered as part of the debt that would be absorbed in the dissolution of the contractor. A penny tax rate levied on property in the county will stay in effect until all of the bus contractors’ debt is paid off. …

Related:

Report on Embattled School Bus Agency: ‘Ignorance, Incompetence, Negligence and Criminal Conduct’
Source: Scott Friedman and Jack Douglas Jr., NBC 5, November 16, 2017

A critical analysis, withheld for months by the former administrators of the Dallas County Schools bus agency, has now been released to NBC 5 Investigates, suggesting crimes were committed in a deal that cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The author of the report, former FBI agent Dennis Brady, didn’t mince words, stating that “ignorance” … “incompetence” … “negligence,” and possibly “criminal conduct” contributed to the financial woes for the school bus agency. The internal report, written last spring, was commissioned by the former board members for Dallas County Schools, in an attempt to determine whether crimes were committed in dealings between DCS and Force Multiplier Solutions, the company hired to equip school buses with security cameras. … Denise Hickman, the agency’s executive director of business during the deal, raised concerns when paperwork showed Louisiana businessman Slater Swartwood Sr. profited from the deal. Swartwood is linked to Force Multiplier Solutions, a company Dallas County Schools worked with on the camera business venture that got the agency into financial trouble in 2012. The purchase agreement describes Swartwood as the agency’s broker. He earned a $750,000 fee and nearly $200,000 was paid by the agency. Swartwood told the TV station in an email that he worked as a consultant for the buyer and didn’t know Dallas County Schools paid a portion of the fee. Force Multiplier Solutions is also linked with more than $245,000 in campaign contributions to the agency’s board president, Larry Duncan. …

Judge to decide fate of Dallas school bus contract
Source: Bob Kalinowski, Citizens Voice, June 27, 2013

Luzerne County Judge Michael Vough has a big decision on his hands regarding a multimillion-dollar bus contract in the Dallas School District.

Depending how he rules, a company that held the contract for decades could be forced out of business or another could be stuck with $2.1 million worth of new buses purchased to fulfill its newly awarded contract.

The school’s longtime contract holder Dallas-based Emanuel Bus Lines has asked Vough to grant an injunction to terminate the school’s new contract with Pike County-based G. Davis Inc.

Pennsylvania lurches from one software boondoggle to another

Source: Joseph N. Distefano, Philly.com, December 1, 2017

The phones stopped working again at Pennsylvania’s unemployment-compensation offices Tuesday. “Due to vendor-related technical issues,” the state Department of Labor and Industry said. The same department has had to rely on what state auditors in May called “antiquated” software, written in the COBOL language used by punch-card programmers in the 1970s, since spending more than $160 million on a replacement system that failed. Elsewhere in Harrisburg, the Department of Human Services paid benefits to a couple of thousand dead people after computer systems failed to flag them as ineligible, auditors found last year. At the Department of Environmental Protection, the last full audit found water-quality reviews used “decades-old” data updated by hand. And after contractors were paid $800 million over the years, more than four times its projected cost since the 1990s, the Pennsylvania Statewide Radio Network still doesn’t work as designed.

… So Mr. Grove is sponsoring House Bill 1704, which would combine most state departmental IT offices and their short- and long-term planning, procurement, and cyber-security protection into a single Office of Technology. It would be part of the governor’s Office of Administration, under a director with the power to kill or suspend projects that run over budget or below standards. Pennsylvania IT contracts need “better controls” and “stronger clawback mechanisms” (performance bonds), so taxpayers can get their money back when the systems they buy don’t work, elected Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat like Gov. Tom Wolf, said at a Nov. 14 hearing on the bill. … But Mr. Wolf’s appointees worry that the new office could “duplicate” and “conflict with” current procurement rules, Curt Topper, Mr. Wolf’s Department of General Services chief, told Mr. Grove at the hearing before Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s Government Affairs Committee. …

Old Lyme police union raises concerns over potential East Lyme merger

Source: Kimberly Drelich, The Day, December 8, 2017
 
The Old Lyme Police Department’s union is raising concerns over a potential consolidation with the East Lyme Police Department and said police officers should be part of the conversation over the town’s policing needs. “The Old Lyme Police AFSCME Local 2693 are in 100 percent agreement that the consolidation is not in the best interest of the townspeople and the police officers,” said police Cpl. Bill Zipadelli, president of local 2693, which comprises the department’s six full-time police officers. “We plan to share our concerns with the first selectman and the Board of Selectmen. It’s important for the voice of police officers to be heard and involved in any discussions regarding our future.” East Lyme and Old Lyme officials announced last summer the beginning of preliminary discussions on a proposal to create one police department for the two towns. East Lyme established an independent police force on July 1, while Old Lyme is under the state police program with a resident state trooper, six full-time officers and one part-time officer. … Larry Dorman, public affairs officer for Council 4 AFSCME, said the union doesn’t believe it’s in Old Lyme’s best interest to lose the current model of a small but dedicated police force that protects and serves the town. “There are statutory concerns, collective bargaining concerns and public safety concerns for the townspeople in Old Lyme,” Dorman said. “It just makes sense that these dedicated police officers are part of any due diligence regarding outsourcing.” … The Old Lyme Board of Selectmen is planning on forming a committee to study the town’s police services and whether or not a potential consolidation makes sense. …