MILLER: Manderino rewarded for incompetence

WE.CONNECT.DOTS:    One reason we have lost all faith in our government is that our officials refuse to be accountable.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced this week he is accepting the resignation of Kathy Manderino as Secretary of Labor and Industry (L and I).

Manderino is quitting so Wolf can appoint her to the PA Gaming Control Board, one of the juiciest plums a Keystone governor can give away.

At L and I, Manderino presided over the latest two-and-a-half years where a total of about $350 million has been spent and/or wasted in an attempt to modernize the state’s unemployment system.

As the Labor Secretary for the past two-and-a-half years, Manderino is paid on an annual basis of $155,000 until the end of July.  Then, come August 1, she is reduced slightly in pay (to $145,000 per annum) to be a watch dog over gambling.

She will have far less duties and responsibilities, one of seven board members who casts votes on various matters a couple times per month.  The position is not considered full time.

Manderino, 58, a House of Representatives member for 18 years, daughter of the former James Manderino, Speaker of the House, lawyer by profession, will have ample time to work her connections and make money elsewhere.

Does she deserve to keep getting “political plums” through the largesse of Gov. Tom Wolf?

Using computer language traced back to the 1960s, Pennsylvania was failing miserably in recovering much of its unemployment compensation expenses from the Federal Government.

The problem apparently went unnoticed until the Great Recession when unemployment about doubled in the state.  The administration of Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell contracted with IBM to design and install a more modern system.

The original contract was for approximately $110 million. Change orders and “do overs” pushed IBM billings to $170 million during the reign of Republican Governor Tom Corbett.

Finally, with Wolf as Governor and Manderino at L and I, the jobs of receiving unemployment compensation claims and efficiently administering to them, collapsed.  A Republican legislature seized political advantage and refused to fully authorize needed funds, according to Manderino. This led to a layoff of 500 L and I staffers shortly before last Christmas.

With the department shorthanded, call waiting times escalated from slightly under 20 minutes in November 2016 to about two-and-a-half hours in mid-January.

Recently Wolf made a deal with the Republicans to restore about $15 million in appropriations and bring 200 furloughed staff members back to work.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that at the present funding pace the crisis will happen again before the end of 2017.  The $15 million needs to be $57 million.

More bad news.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale weighed in with results of his department’s research.  In addition to the $170 million paid over to IBM (now the subject of a Wolf lawsuit demanding refunds), DePasquale claims L and I failed to properly track $180 million spent operating the IBM product between 2013 and 2016.

Further, DePasquale forecasts that another $160 million will be expended before L and I implements a new system with a new vendor.

The total tab when the system is fully corrected will be slightly north of one-half billion dollars!  Manderino deserves little credit for discovering the problem which appeared on her watch at L and I.

At the least, Manderino should have discovered the flaws earlier and charted a course of action.  Normally a person appointed to an oversight role makes some sort of review whenever she assumes the new job.

This nonfeasance doesn’t keep her from getting the juicy plum at the state Gaming Control Board.  Appointments there do not require legislative confirmation.

The seat opened upon the untimely death of Ahmeenah Young, 69, due to cancer.  Ms. Young, president of the PA Convention Center and a recognized expert on hospitality, was appointed last October by Wolf.

A Republican holdover at Deputy Secretary, Kevin Cicak was supposedly fired from his $140,000 a year job as direct supervisor of the unemployment compensation system.  Later it was learned he bumped back to a job as an arbitrator at $80,000.  No other state employee has accepted or been identified for responsibility for the huge waste.

Bottom Line:  Gov. Corbett finally canceled the IBM contract in 2013 but his L and I Secretary, Julia K. Hearthway, continued to do unemployment compensation administration under the flawed system.

Rendell’s administration may have issued a contract to IBM with no specific goals or methods of ways to measure progress.  That didn’t stop Corbett from canceling IBM.  However, both Corbett and Wolf continued to operate a flawed system and failed to account for funds expended.

Like Manderino, Hearthway also went further up the plum tree.  In 2016 Wolf appointed the former prosecutor on Corbett’s Attorney General staff to a vacancy on the Commonwealth Court.