Las Vegas Sun

August 20, 2019

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Memo from Carson City:

Efforts to minimize double dipping might be sticking

It looks like the Legislature’s latest attempt to take on double-dippers might stick.

Double dipping is reviled by public watchdogs as a way for connected public employees and officials to pad salaries while producing little in the way of tangible work from their second, state-funded jobs.

It’s not a small amount of money at issue. A 2009 audit by the Legislative Counsel Bureau found 250 former and current state workers under contract with the state at a cost of $11.6 million during fiscal 2008 and 2009.

After repeated attempts to track and evaluate such arrangements, including bills passed by the Legislature in 2009 and 2011, it appears better safeguards are in place. The state issued a memo last week explaining tighter controls on and better tracking of state employees who contract with Nevada’s government, including recently retired state employees. The administration will also catalog all current contracts between state employees and state government.

The latest controversy to highlight the issue came in September with the case of Frank Woodbeck, who Gov. Brian Sandoval selected to head the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, or DETR. Unbeknownst to Sandoval at the time of the appointment, and as the Las Vegas Sun first reported, Woodbeck was for a time both a full-time employee of the Commission on Economic Development, a state agency, and contractor for DETR.

Woodbeck had asked the ethics commission for an opinion two years earlier.

And a review of his time cards showed he did his contracting at night and on the weekends, when he wasn’t on the clock for his full-time state job.

The Sandoval administration stood by its appointment of Woodbeck, but promised to crack down on double dipping in the future.

Department of Administration Director Jeff Mohlenkamp issued a memo last week clarifying the steps for state workers, or those who have retired in the past two years, who seek a state contract:

The contracts will now have to be approved by the state Board of Examiners, which is made up of the governor, secretary of state and attorney general.

The change comes thanks to a better relationship between Sandoval and lawmakers than in the previous administration.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who sponsored the 2009 and 2011 bills aimed at better regulating double dipping, called the regulations “a great step forward.” She said the Sandoval administration “actually checked with me to see if I am comfortable with what the (Board of Examiners) passed.”

That’s a change from the turf wars waged among the Gibbons administration and the legislative and executive branches. After the 2009 session, the administration bristled at anything it viewed as encroachment on its executive authority, including hiring contractors from among state workers.

At one point, the Gibbons administration was approving changes in the budget by declaring them emergency items, without getting approval from the Legislature, and threatening to challenge the constitutionality of lawmakers’ interim boards if anyone protested.

Mohlenkamp said the Sandoval administration is focusing on contracts approved since July 1, when the new law took effect. But at some point he wants to examine the contracts state employees currently have.

“We intend to get a full understanding of these relationships,” Mohlenkamp said.

Jennifer Lopez, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, told the Nevada News Bureau this month that after reviewing the 2009 Legislative Counsel Bureau audit, the office would not take action against any employees referenced in the audit. As the audit noted, there were no controls in place at the time of the contracts.

Smith said many contracts in question originated with a temporary employment agency the state uses. “It has become obvious there is a serious need for this policy and I would assume the temp agency contracts are the ones that may need some future policy changes,” she said.

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