Collaboration in Civic Spheres

$95K fine eyed for oil spill safety risk at Richmond Beach

by Matt Rosenberg September 13th, 2012

The Seattle-based Region 10 office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached a proposed consent agreement and final order with California-based Paramount Petroleum Corporation including a $95,606 civil penalty for what the agency asserts is the company’s failure to provide federally-required protections against the risk of an oil spill from a 28 million gallon storage tank at its Richmond Beach facility on Puget Sound near the City of Shoreline. Paramount makes and markets asphalt and operates a number of refineries and related sites. As the Seattle Times has reported, at Richmond Beach is “an aging asphalt plant and oil tank farm” owned by a Washington state affiliate of Paramount, on property that has been proposed by the company for a controversial and large-scale mixed-use retail and housing development called Point Wells. That development remains mired in a legal dispute related to potential traffic impacts.

Washington State will push for expanded U.S. defense role

by Matt Rosenberg September 12th, 2012

If Washington Governor Chris Gregoire and the state’s Congressional delegation have anything to say about it, planned cutbacks in U.S. defense facilities and spending won’t get in the way of an expanded U.S. military role for the Evergreen State and military contractors who call it home. In a request for proposals issued on behalf of the Washington Military Alliance, the state’s Office of Financial Management (OFM) is seeking a contractor who for up to $300,000 will prepare a report detailing the hows and whys of Washington’s vital strategic defense role for the U.S. even as the nation continues its shift to a leaner and more focused military. The Alliance was created by Gov. Gregoire and the state’s federal legislators, and includes state and local officials, regional community groups supporting military installations, and economic development organizations. Using the report, it will “coordinate a unified message” to “effectively compete for a continued and expanded share of national defense spending,” according to the RFP document.

The RFP elaborates that Washington is in a good position even as the military downsizes, because of an increasing emphasis by the U.S. Department of Defense on Asia-Pacific operations. One component of the state’s lobbying campaign will be to withstand the next round of military base closures and realignments. That process hasn’t yet begun. The broader defense downsizing strategy was further accented in January 2012, with the release by the DOD of the report Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership Priorities for 21st Century Defense.”

“It’s critical Washington State is on the strongest possible position to demonstrate to federal policymakers that maintaining and expanding military missions in Washington State promotes national security and is a wise, cost effective, fiscal investment,” the RFP states.

Public Data Ferret’s compendium of articles on Washington military contracts shows they have been awarded to a range of firms statewide for water filters, fuel, foreign base supplies, dam maintenance, medical and biomedical equipment, Saudi Air Force surveillance plane upgrades, firefighting equipment, drone support, food supplies, building an oceanographic research vessel, HVAC work, construction and facility project planning, and nuclear submarine improvements.

As previously reported by Public Data Ferret, a September 2010 Washington Economic Development Commission report found that in fiscal 2009, U.S. military contract obligations in the state totaled $5.2 billion and, including indirect and induced impacts, military spending comprised seven percent of total state jobs and eight percent of labor income. Major Army, Navy and naval air facilities dot the Puget Sound landscape, and awards to Washington military contractors have been been steady, and varied in type.

Public Data Ferret’s compendium of articles on Washington military contracts shows they have been awarded to a range of firms statewide for water filters, fuel, foreign base supplies, dam maintenance, medical and biomedical equipment, Saudi Air Force surveillance plane upgrades, firefighting equipment, drone support, food supplies, building an oceanographic research vessel, HVAC work, construction and facility project planning, and nuclear submarine improvements.

The deadline for response to the RFP issued by OFM on behalf of the Washington Military Alliance is September 20th. A winning bidder is to be selected on September 25th, and work on the contract to begin by October 9th.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

UW aims to transform learning via cloud, Web and mobile

by Matt Rosenberg September 12th, 2012

The University of Washington is moving ahead with an ambitious campus technology initiative that aims to transform learning. Key components include electronic textbooks allowing collaborative exchanges among students, a cloud-based cache of teacher lectures with interactive features, a series of new mobile apps aimed at UW students, and the university’s entry into the “massive open online courses” arena led by the Coursera consortium of Stanford, Princeton, University of Michigan and other schools. A memo prepared for the UW Board of Regents at its regular meeting this Thursday by Vice-President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Kelli Trosvig, provides an overview.

To meet the needs of increasingly digitally-oriented students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders, the U has been conducting a series of surveys in the last several years. This is resulting, says Trosvig’s memo to The Regents, in adoption of “roughly 12 technologies – bought, built or borrowed – (that) are now on-premises and in the cloud, some in pilot project mode and others in full production.”

Some highlights of the “Two Years to Two Decades, Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century Initiative” follow.

  • Pilot projects began last spring and are continuing with eText electronic textbooks that have collaborative features allowing students to help each other understand the material.
  • The cloud-based Tegrity tool allows professors to post their presentations for easy recording by students on their computing devices without special software or hardware. Students can annotate and bookmark the content and teachers can free up classroom time for other purposes. Tegrity is being rolled out on all three campuses – Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell.
  • The university’s IT division is developing several mobile apps that students wanted, and which are said to be coming this fall. MyUWMobile will give students a convenient mobile hub to access class schedules and class Web sites. A student-funded app will highlight best campus study spots.
  • Coursera@UW will align the university with a leading-edge distance learning company and platform to offer no-cost UW courses online to anyone anywhere with Web access, for free, but this “may be extended by self-sustaining, credit-bearing versions taught by UW faculty” through the school’s continuing education program. Three to four courses are expected to be offered this fall via Coursera@UW.

Some of the additional components of the “Two Years to Two Decades” initiative will seek to make administrative aspects of campus life simpler for students and teachers, or are already doing so. The GradePage electronic grading system was adopted in 2009 and by last fall had made paper grading forms unnecessary. Now 94 percent of final grades are turned in on time, versus 75 percent in Winter, 2009. As a result, administrative work to facilitate scholarships, honors and financial aid has been made more efficient, according to Trosvig’s memo.

New technology is also coming to help students better manage their financial aid. This will allow “better messaging and self-service,” as well as “clearer status and actions for online award acceptance, rejection or reduction” of aid, and improvements in tracking of required documents and a student’s total debt accumulation.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

State audit dings Sunnyside schools for poor alt ed scrutiny

by John Stang 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.

Public Data Ferret’s Education and Management archive

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.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

UW study: scat-sniffing dogs can help in spotted owl counts

by Matt Rosenberg September 10th, 2012

Conservation biologists at the University of Washington in Seattle report that dogs trained to sniff out small pellets of dried fecal matter from the threatened species the northern spotted owl can play an important role in ongoing efforts to gauge its survival in the forests of the West and Northwest. In turn, conservationists would be able to better target areas where the spotted owl is most threatened and take or propose countermeasures accordingly.

In a study recently published in full and available to all for free at the open access journal known as PLoS (Public Library of Science) One, the UW research team reported that based on field experiments, the so-called detection dogs could often help confirm the presence of the northern spotted owl in forests when the traditional “vocalization” or call and response method could not. The researchers say that’s because the spotted owl will not respond to calls if its competitor species, the barred owl, is present, as is sometimes the case.

WA scores well in one aspect of Medicaid fraud detection

by John Stang 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.”

WA Audit: Snoho-Skagit EMS boss tied to dubious spending

by John Stang September 6th, 2012

The Washington State Auditor’s Office concluded that potentially tens of thousands of dollar in public money went to an emergency services official under suspicious circumstances from 2002 to 2010, according to a fraud investigation report released Tuesday. The official was Bonnie Robinson, former executive director of the state-authorzied North Region Emergency Medical Services and Trauma Council, who resigned on Aug. 2, 2010, slightly more than two weeks after the council put her on administrative leave. The council referred the matter to the state auditor’s office in December 2010 for review, which was stalled during determinations of whether the state had the authority to do so. The council does not have insurance against this type of loss. Tuesday’s audit report said money was inadequately accounted for. It also recommended improvements to the council’s internal financial controls, and referred the matter to the Skagit County Prosecutor’s Office to see if any charges are warranted.

The council coordinates emergency medical services and trauma training for Skagit, Snohomish, Island, Whatcom and San Juan counties. It has an annual budget of roughly $315,000, of which about $170,000 goes to three full-time employees. Robinson’s annual salary grew from $40,498 in 2002 to $56,490 in 2010, but according to the state auditor’s fraud report, was augmented with a variety of expense and benefit benefit payments that lacked proper authorization or documentation.

Monroe Schools honcho forced to quit after sex pics scandal

by Matt Rosenberg September 4th, 2012

The director of the Monroe, Wash. School District’s high school-level alternative education program called Leaders In Learning, who was earning $109,260 in total salary and benefits, was forced to resign because he used his school computer to view sexually explicit images, including some of his wife. Over a period of six years, the inappropriate content got steamier, as complaints and warnings from fellow employees made uncomfortable, were ignored.

Though the resignation occurred in June 2011, this case was made public only last week through a final order of suspension of the state education certificate of Kenneth Brown, quietly posted online by the State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) at a page where hundreds of such disciplinary documents dating as far back as 1992 are linked – but only alphabetically by employee’s last name, not by date or school district.