Thursday, February 15, 2001

Lawmakers castigate Family Services Dept.

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Department of Job and Family Services deserves a D for its performance since last year's merger of Ohio's human services and unemployment agencies, Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday.

        The department in recent weeks has been criticized for its management of child-support collections, questions about unbid contracts, and the closing of 56 unemployment offices, which have been replaced with phone centers.

        “It seems like the state is coming close to what we see as a management crisis. There are too many things going wrong,” House Minority Leader Jack Ford, D-Toledo, said at a news conference attended by about a dozen House and Senate members.

An "F' in four subjects

        The Democrats gave the department an F in four categories, including its computer-tracking system for child support collections. The department has acknowledged withholding some back payments, but it says no one has missed a current payment.

        Its director, Jacqueline Romer-Sensky, has said the withheld payments could total $8 million. She said each recipient will get what is due once the system is corrected.

        The Democrats also flunked the department for awarding millions of dollars in unbid contracts, particularly one that replaced one job-matching system for unemployed people with another system.

        Sen. Greg DiDonato, D-New Philadelphia, criticized the department for awarding an unbid $23 million contract switching the systems last year. He said the new system performs poorly.

        “We raised questions about unbid contracts numerous times,” Mr. DiDonato said. “It takes away public trust and belief in the agencies and it makes all of us question what is going on.”

        Mr. DiDonato said that as a member of the State Controlling Board, which approves changes in state spending, he questioned the contract at its meet ing of Feb. 28, 2000.

        State records show that the board, including Mr. DiDonato, unanimously approved the contract.

        He said he had a responsibility to allow the department, then known as the Ohio Department of Human Services, to choose its own systems.

        “I have to look at the agency having to perform the service. You have to put the issue aside,” he said.

Governor's program

        Senate Minority Leader Leigh Herington, D-Ravenna, said Gov. Bob Taft, who ordered the merger to streamline government, must accept responsibility for its problems.

        “We are not trying to make the director the scapegoat here. This was the governor's program. He insisted on the combination of these two state agencies,” he said.

        Taft spokesman Kevin Kellems said Mr. Taft is moving to correct problems in the agency.

        “The merger was approved with strong bipartisan support. It's not a surprise to see Democrats playing their partisan role, but we hope they will work with us again to finish this merger successfully,” he said.

        “The governor supports the director and her plan to fix the child-support problem, and has confidence in her ability to complete the merger successfully.”


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