August 2, 2015

Looking at the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountabitliy and GOC - By Sen. Bill Diamond

Senate District 26 – Windham, Standish, Raymond, Casco, Baldwin, Frye Island

When the committee chairman asked for the vote all twelve legislators, six Republicans and six Democrats, raised their hands voting unanimously to proceed with the investigation of Governor LePage’s alleged threat to withhold state funds from a private school unless it withdrew a job offer to House Speaker Mark Eves to become its next president. 

This show of bipartisan unanimity by the committee surprised many observers, including several in the media, however for those of us who have been working together as democrats and republicans throughout this recent legislative session, this vote of bipartisan solidarity was nothing new - simply business as usual. Because of the unorthodox and, may I say, strange actions employed by the governor during this past legislative session, legislators have worked together in a close and unprecedented fashion to do the people’s business.                                           
The questions regarding the governor’s alleged threats relating to Speaker Eves and Good Will-Hinckley, which critics felt was an abuse of power by the governor, are very serious and will require a thorough investigation by an experienced and nonpartisan, professional staff. Enter the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA), which was created for the specific purpose of reviewing and investigating, when necessary, government agencies, departments and those employed by state government. 

The legislative committee that directs OPEGA is called the Government Oversight Committee (GOC) and, as mentioned above, is comprised of an equal number of democrats and republicans. Legislators are selected to serve on this committee based on their extensive legislative experience and having reputations of being consistently bipartisan in their legislative work. I’m proud to be a veteran member of the GOC and will admit that much of our work would be considered boring and of little interest to the public, however everything we do has a significant purpose and serves a critical role in state government.

Of course, sometimes our work isn’t so boring and ends up on the front pages of newspapers and on the evening news. For example, in 2011 we initiated an investigation into the Maine Turnpike Authority and, in particular, then director Paul Violette. Using our subpoena power we were able to gather critical information necessary to the investigation. In that case our findings were highly publicized and Mr. Violette was later convicted in court and served 3 ½ years in prison.

It’s important to note that the rules of the Government Oversight Committee prevent the committee members from being involved in or have knowledge of OPEGA’s actual investigations until their work is completed and presented to the whole committee. However, if the OPEGA investigators are not getting cooperation, say from the LePage administration in this case, then we could exercise our subpoena power to assist the investigators. 

So this is what it looks like in a nutshell. Think of OPEGA as a nonpartisan organization of highly experienced professionals who specialize in investigating and evaluating government agencies and their employees. 

Now envision the Government Oversight Committee (GOC) as the board of directors for OPEGA. This “board” receives the results of OPEGA’s investigations, holds public hearings on the findings of the investigations and invites key individuals to testify publicly to answer questions from committee members that may arise as a result of the findings.

So, in the LePage/Eves case, OPEGA investigates the complaint and presents their findings, which is expected to be in September, to the GOC who then reviews those findings and holds a public hearing and then presents a final compilation of the investigation to the public.

It should be clear that the OPEGA investigations and GOC hearings relating to the LePage/Eves investigation are separate from any impeachment discussions that have been brought forth to date by other legislators and separate from any legal actions that may be in progress such as the possible lawsuit involving Speaker Eves and the governor. 

The results of OPEGA’s investigations and the GOC’s role of publicly reviewing and presenting their findings could lay the groundwork for further actions by others such as the House of Representatives if they decide to proceed with the impeachment process.

Whatever OPEGA’s investigation reveals you can rest assured that the findings will be thorough and the Government Oversight Committee will not shy away from our responsibilities of clarifying and sharing those findings with the public regardless of the potential repercussions from …anyone.

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