Wednesday, June 14, 2017

State resists accountability for Department of Information Systems

Posted By on Wed, Jun 14, 2017 at 2:30 PM

The state Department of Information Systems is hiding behind a dubious shield to resist release of information about a recent Legislative Audit that raised questions about three contracts worth more than $8 million entered by the agency under the leadership of Mark Myers.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked for Myers' resignation last year for reasons unclear at the time. Last week, a Legislative Audit said that the former agency director had a personal relationship with a vendor on the three contracts and the contracts may have violated state policy. Myers said in a letter to legislators he'd done nothing wrong, but the auditing committee was told a criminal investigation continued.

The department has said it won't comment beyond a brief statement  included in the legislative audit that said one contract would be voided, one wasn't operating as planned and the biggest contract, for $6.9 million to increase school broadband, had been completed successfully. It conceded the last contract was entered without obtaining other quotes.

I asked for the name of vendors and contractors, unidentified in the audit. I also asked for the Myers e-mails and texts, held on DIS servers. on which auditors said they based their findings.

The department has refused my FOI request. It cites an attorney general's opinion noting an exception to the FOI for law enforcement agencies in the midst of ongoing investigations. It's my contention that this exception applies only to law enforcement agencies, not other agencies that might have parallel copies of similar records. DIS insists otherwise. It also says it has worked in concert with Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in formulating a response to defeat accountability.

Here's how stupid this is. I have good reason to believe I know the name of the representative with whom Myers dealt. It is a matter of broad knowledge across the Internet, to name just one, that the state worked with Cisco on the school broadband initiative. Myers touted its fine work in this article, for example. How crazy is the FOI resistance? The DIS' own newsletter has an article and photo, including Myers and a Cisco representative, on the school broadband work.

Some further sleuthing could no doubt identify the smaller contracts as well. But private sleuthing shouldn't be required to obtain public information as simple as the names of who arranged and got paid for a $6.9 million state contract.

What exactly did the audit find problematic in Myers' dealing with a vendor? We don't know. It might be not much. Myers was known to be inquiring about moving to the private sector last year. The unearthed e-mails might only be collegial discussions about that. That could give rise to concerns about favoritism, depending. Absent the accountability that open records would bring, people are free to assume whatever.

UPDATE: I asked the attorney general's office if it had worked with DIS on its response to my FOI request and whether it agreed with the interpretation being offered. A spokesman declined to comment.

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