Gary Alexander, the consultant hired by the LePage administration to evaluate Maine’s welfare system, has been removed from a list of speakers briefing a congressional panel on the status of the “War on Poverty” following revelations in Maine that his latest report contained several incidents of plagiarism.
Alexander, the former public welfare chief in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, was originally supposed to testify at a June 10 “War on Poverty” panel by the House Budget Committee. Alexander testified before a similar panel in 2013 put on by U.S. Senate and his remarks were highlighted by U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate budget committee.
Alexander was expected to give similar testimony before the House Budget Committee next week. The hearings have been promoted by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who has argued that former President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and associated government programs have failed poor Americans.
A spokesman for the House Budget Office confirmed Tuesday that Alexander was no longer scheduled to testify.
“In light of recent events, Mr. Alexander will not be testifying before the House Budget Committee next week,” a spokesman said.
The spokesman would not specify the reasons that Alexander had been removed from panel, which includes advocates for poverty programs and conservative groups. The rescinded invitation, however, comes on the heels of multiple reports showing that Alexander’s recent report on Maine’s welfare system had been plagiarized.
The LePage administration last year entered a $925,000 contract with The Alexander Group to evaluate the state’s welfare programs. The contract has been attacked from the outset as a political document designed to validate Gov. Paul LePage’s reform policies.
Recently, a plagiarism expert at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia told the Portland Press Herald that he found at least five instances of plagiarism in the most recent report by The Alexander Group, whic was issued in May.
Professor Mike Smit studied the report at the request of Mike Tipping, communications director for the liberal Maine People’s Alliance and a columnist for the Press Herald.
Smit also found five additional instances of improper or missing attribution in a January report authored by The Alexander Group, which concluded that expanding MaineCare would add 124,000 recipients and increase costs by $807 million over 10 years.
Prior to Smit’s review, an editorial in the Bangor Daily News found that two entire pages of text were lifted from a report on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
LePage has since suspended payments to Alexander and says he has not ruled out attempting to recoup $500,000 that has already been paid to Alexander.
“I will take every action we can. I am not happy about this,” LePage said in a statement released last week.
Gerald Petruccelli, a business litigation attorney in Portland, said recovering spent funds could prove difficult for the administration. Ultimately, Petruccelli said, the state may have to prove in court that the studies turned over by Alexander had no value in order to reclaim money it has already paid to the Rhode Island firm.
“In order not to pay the remaining balance, and recover the money it’s already paid, the state would have to demonstrate that the failure of the reports are so substantial so as to destroy the value of the whole transaction,” Petruccelli said.
The prospect of LePage declaring that the entire report is invalid seems unlikely. The administration had vigorously defended hiring Alexander since the DHHS announced the contract in November. Additionally, the administration has used some of the findings in Alexander’s January study to argue its case against expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act.
DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew has also chastised Democrats and the media for politicizing “punctuation over policy, instead of evaluating these critical reform recommendations on their merits.”
LePage vetoed a bill that would have canceled the Alexander contract after dismissing the Democratic-led effort as a political stunt. At that time the only study that Alexander had produced was the Medicaid analysis.
The consultant missed several deadlines until it delivered the most recent installment May 16. The study contained three of the studies that were due earlier this year. The LePage administration has granted Alexander an extension for the remaining study.
Those findings were subsequently disputed by critics, who said The Alexander Group made a $575 million calculation error and failed to incorporate any cost savings related to MaineCare expansion.
Alexander has acknowledged “discrepancies” in his reports and said they were the fault of one employee, who was disciplined and removed from the Maine project. Alexander did not respond to follow-up requests for comment about the suspension of payments from the state.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: