It’s been almost 10 years since comedian Stephen Colbert introduced Americans to the word “truthiness” — the farcical idea that we can determine facts by “gut feeling,” without regard to data or evidence.
As Colbert explained in an interview: “It used to be everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It’s certainty.”
Present-day Augusta is the Land of Truthiness — an Alice in Wonderland world of political doublespeak where fiction becomes fact and facts are banished to the hinterlands. The current administration claims to love facts and data, but frequently it seems they use information more as a weapon in the political arsenal than as the basis for developing sound policy or driving sensible spending decisions.
That’s a shame. The governor, Maine’s CEO, talks tough about “running government like a business,” but when it comes to using information to drive decisions, his administration often doesn’t act like a business at all.
Smart businesses measure problems before they invest in solutions, and they measure results to determine if their investments are paying off. The executive branch in Augusta doesn’t do this enough, which has been especially evident in the recent battle about “welfare fraud.”
We all agree that something needs to be done. Sadly, the executive branch doesn’t provide a decent baseline of facts to drive our decisions. We have given our Department of Health and Human Services millions of dollars for expensive tools and resources, but we have no idea if our investment is paying dividends or if it’s effective at all.
The fight against fraud shouldn’t be political, although some try to make it so. Part of the problem is that we aren’t working from a common set of facts that lets us know what the DHHS is doing well and where it needs to improve.
We can change this now. The Legislature sent the governor a bill that would require DHHS to be more transparent and accountable to Maine citizens. He vetoed it Tuesday, but I hope lawmakers will vote to override the veto.
I sponsored this bill, L.D. 1829, because the fight against fraud and abuse in our public programs needs to be one of the highest priorities.
The bill would require the DHHS to give an annual accounting of all its efforts to fight fraud, waste and abuse in MaineCare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (cash assistance) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food assistance); what’s working and what isn’t, what the DHHS is doing to fight crime and what it is doing on the front end to prevent fraud.
These programs are the backbone of anti-poverty initiatives designed to get people on their feet and back to work. Because they are so important, we ask taxpayers to support them financially and, similar to an investor in a business, Maine people deserve to know how that money is being spent and if their investment is paying off.
We have limited resources to fund these vital services and need to be responsible and smart about how we use them. As a state legislator, I need to know this information before I decide whether to spend more or whether to divert existing resources to something more effective. That’s how I make decisions in my business, and we should expect no less from our CEO in Augusta.
Unfortunately, the DHHS and many of its Republican supporters in the Legislature aren’t on board. They claim it would take too much time and cost too much money to provide this basic information to the Legislature and the people of Maine. That’s not true, and it’s not an answer that Mainers should accept.
People have a right to know what the DHHS is doing to fight fraud and how their tax dollars are being spent. The Legislature needs this information in order to do its job and make smart decisions. We have a right to demand openness and accountability from the LePage administration, especially from the DHHS, an agency that accounts for such a large amount of state spending.
Fraud is a problem that we can solve, but we’ll never be successful if we don’t focus on the facts and move past the “truthiness.”
Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, serves on the Health and Human Services Committee. He also is a health-care executive whose background is in the management of state Medicaid agencies and recovering money lost to fraud, waste and abuse.