John Stang is a Seattle-based freelance reporter. He is a former longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a master's degree in digital media in 2010 from the University of Washington.
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November 9th, 2012
Does the lobbying organization for Washington’s cities want to push against a 2018 deadline to convert municipal vehicles to use alternative fuels? The Association of Washington Cities is pondering that question, and expects to be making a decision in early December, said Dave Williams, the organization’s director of state and federal relations. The next legislative session starts in early January, with education funding and another multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall both front and center. But a recent AWC draft memo to members stresses local concerns about rising fiscal pressures on cities, infrastructure and jobs concerns, and state mandates. It says a possible priority in the 2013 legislative session starting in January is to “further delay the deadline or modify the mandate for conversion of local government fleets to alternative fuel vehicles” past 2018. Read the rest of this entry »
October 25th, 2012
Camouflage uniforms that according to U.S. Army soldiers, “provided ineffective concealment in the Afghan environment” may point to the need for an Army-wide revamp of camo cover suited to different environments. And it could carry a price tag of as much as $4 billion over five years. A big part of the problem was failure to complete field testing and prioritize the needs of soldiers in the field. Meanwhile, the Marines got it right, developing effective camo based on extensive testing. The Navy smartly adopted the effective Marine camo, but the Air Force has also floundered on this front. Underlying it all, the services’ parent agency, the U.S. Department of Defense, has failed to meet a 2010 legislative directive to develop joint criteria for combat-ready camouflage. All this is according to a recent General Accounting Office report titled “DOD Should Improve Development of Camouflage Uniforms and Enhance Collaboration Among the Services.” Read the rest of this entry »
October 15th, 2012
A bill has stalled in Congress that would open up Eastern Washington’s Rattlesnake Ridge to the public. The 3,600-foot-high ridge is the dominating feature of the Hanford nuclear reservation and the Tri-Cities area. The ridge marks Hanford’s southwestern border and had been part of the site’s security buffer since 1943 when the Manhattan Project took over the area to build a nuclear plant to create plutonium for the first atomic bombs. For centuries,the ridge has also been a spiritual site for area Indian tribes, as well as being almost pristine shrub-steppe habitat. It used to have an astronomy observatory on top as well as part of a Cold War Nike Ajax missile site. A handful of radio antennas are also on top of the ridge. It is part of the 120-square-mile Fitzner-Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecology Reserve, which along with the neighboring 134-square-mile Wahluke Slope, are the non-contaminated parts of the 586-square-mile Hanford reservation. The Fitzner-Eberhardt land is under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Control. The Wahluke Slope north and northeast of the highly contaminated central Hanford is mostly accessible to the public. Read the rest of this entry »
October 13th, 2012
The Yakima City Council has unanimously approved a resolution opening the door to competitive bidding between in-house departments and outside contractors. The resolution OK’d October 2 says that because the city, state and national economies “are experiencing sustained economic losses resulting in decreased revenues” to governments, such competition is worth exploring because it could help bring savings and efficiency to Yakima’s operations. A memo to the council from city purchasing manager Sue Ownby says the first city division likely to use the process may be the airport, “based upon the Airport Board’s interest in considering both public and private sector management…” Read the rest of this entry »
September 25th, 2012
Many Puget Sound and Western Washington local governments are appealing the state permits requiring them to upgrade how they deal with storm water pollution. At least 12 cities, King County, Pierce County, Snohomish County, Clark County and Cowlitz County filed appeals by an Aug. 31 deadline to change the state’s permits’ new requirements due to go into effect on Aug. 1, 2013. Among their contentions: the proposed new permitting plan is inflexible, overly broad, carries insufficient cost-benefit requirements and doesn’t sufficiently articulate how related fees will be used. Read the rest of this entry »
September 18th, 2012
Getting permits and licenses from Washington’s government is nowhere as simple as it could be, according to a recent Washington State performance audit. A longtime state government goal has been to allow people and businesses who must comply with regulations to go to central Web sites to get all the information they need to meet their legal obligations under the law. That goal is still a long way away. “Doing business in Washington today means sifting through a complex maze of state and local laws and regulations. At the state level alone, someone wanting to open a small convenience store, with a gas pump for example, would have to get regulatory approval from up to a dozen different agencies, in addition to approvals from local jurisdictions. … The challenge is especially difficult for small businesses, usually lacking the resources that enable larger companies to hire attorneys and other specialists to help them comply. When businesses fail to fully comply with regulations, they face fines and penalties,” the audit report said. Read the rest of this entry »
September 11th, 2012
The Sunnyside school district in Yakima County was wrongly paid $213,110 because it misreported the number of students in a home-based computer learning program, a recent state audit said.
The Washington State Auditor’s Office reported that the district counted 19 too many full-time equivalent students – translating to 95 “student months” – in its Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) program from November 2010 to March 2011. The Sunnyside district reported 552 ALE student months in the 2010-11 school year, or the equivalent of slightly more than 69 year-long students in the program. The program provides online education for students not best served in traditional settings.
Other deficiencies included inadequate ALE class rosters; uncertified staff approving one student’s learning plan; insufficient documentation showing required weekly contacts between students and program staff; six students making unsatisfactory progress; some classes not having syllabuses; and no signed parental agreements for seven students.
The Sunnyside district hired a private company, The American Academy (TAA), to run the program and did not adequately monitor the contract, the audit report said.
The report included a school district reply that said: “We agree that TAA did not comply with all of the paperwork set forth by the state legislators and (Office of Superintendent Public instruction) for ALE reporting. The district is working with TAA to make sure these requirements are met for future reporting. The district reported to OSPI those students that completed classes in the TAA program for reimbursement and therefore feel that we shouldn’t be monetarily impacted for paper work issues that can be corrected.”
The state paid the Sunnyside district $294,615 for ALE students in 2010-11, of which the auditor’s office said irregularities caused $213,110 not to be confirmable for the state’s records.The district’s 2010-11 budget was $63.4 million.
The East Valley school district, also in Yakima County, was dinged for similar problems in a July state auditor’s report – improperly collecting $66,717 in state money for an Alternative Learning Experience program that had inadequate monitoring and financial controls.
September 7th, 2012
Washington state is batting almost 1,000 in due diligence checks of Medicaid applicants for financial eligibility, but needs to run checks on their vehicle ownership to ensure it is properly weeding out those whose net assets are too high to qualify for the program, according to a recent U.S. General Accountability Office report. The report by GAO, which performs program evaluations and related investigations at the request of members of Congress, looked at how thoroughly all 50 states and the District of Columbia vet their long-term Medicaid applicants for one sub-category of eligibility standards. The feds list 13 potential categories of assets that can be checked to ensure applicants are not fraudulently transferring them or failing to report them, so they don’t count toward Medicaid eligibility. A 2007 Medicaid fraud conviction of a woman in New Hampshire accented the risks. As of July, Washington was doing the necessary checking in 12 of those 13 categories; the exception being vehicle ownership. Idaho too verifies 12 categories, also not tackling vehicles, while Oregon verifies all 13 categories for its long-term Medicaid applicants. It is one of 20 states to do so.
Overall, though, the state could do significantly better in detecting Medicaid fraud, say legislators. As reported earlier at Public Data Ferret, upon passage last spring of a new law effective this July 1, to ratchet up Medicaid fraud penalties, Washington State Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) blogged, “Experts from the National Conference of State Legislatures estimate the cost of Medicaid fraud accounts for 3 and 10 percent of total Medicaid expenditures. Washington spent $8.5 billion on Medicaid last year only to recover less than $20 million in fraud. At its most optimistic, the state’s recovery rate tops out at less than 1 percent.” Read the rest of this entry »