OPEGA to remain in place – for now…
The budget passed by majority vote in the legislature on Monday slashed staff and funding for OPEGA but left the agency intact and, more importantly, removed language in the original majority report that merged OPEGA, which is governed by a bipartisan committee, with the legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review, which is governed by the highly partisan Legislative Council.
The summary for the amendment that was ultimately passed reads in part as follows:
This amendment preserves the current structure of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability and the current legislative oversight of that office, but reduces the staff by 3 positions, leaving 4 positions and some funding for contracted services in place. The amendment directs the Director of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to work with the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over state and local government matters and the Government Oversight Committee to develop performance standards applicable to the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability and to identify ways to collaborate with other offices and departments, including legislative offices, the State Controller and the State Auditor, to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its oversight role.
My reading of this makes clear that opponents of OPEGA, having failed to crush it outright this time around, intend to take a more long-term approach toward weakening its investigative powers. Under the guise of making it more “efficient,” they will try to limit its reach, merge it with other agencies over which they have more control, and in every other way possible make it as ineffective as they can.
What are they trying to hide?
We may learn more once The Maine Heritage Policy Center launches its new transparency initiative, being developed as we speak. In the very near future, anyone with a computer will have access to much of the same data that OPEGA has used to find waste and fraud, and I suspect that what we will find in that data will tell us a great deal about why so many people in Augusta seem intent on silencing OPEGA.