Bauer’s Transparency Initiative a Bit Opaque

January 27, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveIn what he termed an effort to “restore taxpayers’ confidence in our stewardship of their money,” Bauer in February 2009 unveiled the “lieutenant governor’s transparency initiative,” which he said would give taxpayers an unprecedented view of his office’s finances.

“Let’s get serious about transparency,” he wrote in an op-ed in The State. “The people who pay the bills – the hard-working taxpayers of South Carolina – deserve no less.”

So, how goes his transparency initiative 11 months later?

It would appear to be on life support.

If you had clicked on the transparency initiative icon on the lieutenant governor’s Web page late last year, you would have found accountability reports for January, February and March of 2009, with March being the month Bauer’s opinion piece ran in The State.

It was never updated after that, however. Since then, though, the lieutenant governor’s office has simply linked to the comptroller general’s spending transparency Web site.

That’s not the only transparency issue the Lieutenant Governor’s Office put on the back burner, either.

Bauer’s office has been slow to turn over public information about state-funded programs under his control.

Last year the South Carolina Policy Council investigated and reported on the Senior Center Permanent Improvement Program, which is operated by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. At the time, Bauer’s office declined to turn over information about the program, which has paid out nearly $10 million since 2000, despite repeated requests for a detailed accounting of projects, collections and expenditures.

After the story ran, a spokesman for the Lieutenant Governor’s Office said his agency was “still chasing down the numbers” for the Permanent Improvement Program “because we want to be absolutely certain we are right.” More than eight months later, the office has yet to turn over any additional information to the Policy Council.

Also, in late July, the Policy Council sent a S.C. Freedom of Information Act request to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office seeking all state-related communication sent or received via private e-mail accounts on state-owned or leased property or equipment between Jan. 1, 2009, and July 1, 2009.

Bauer’s office was among 10 state agencies the Policy Council sent such an open-records request to, in an attempt to ascertain how widespread is the practice of conducting public business on private accounts.

The other agencies turned over the information requested free of charge, but Bauer’s office sought to charge the Policy Council $61 an hour to compile the e-mails, plus 3 cents for each page copied.

The $61-an-hour figure is based on the cost of employee salary and fringe benefits, according to Bauer’s office. The Policy Council believes the charge is unreasonable and improper.

And in October, the Policy Council sent an electronic mail request to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office asking for a copy of the agency’s e-mail retention policy.

Because the state has no comprehensive plan regarding retention of e-mail and, therefore, retention plans are left up to individual agencies, the Policy Council queried several agencies on the subject.

Helen Ann Thrower, Bauer’s chief of staff, responded by attaching a four-page document titled “Computer Usage: Internet and Network Services Policy .” Also included was a bill.

“The cost for providing this information is $15.25, based on the time it took to gather the information and put it in the attached document to send to you,” Thrower wrote.

However, the matter of e-mail retention was not addressed in the information sent by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.

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