Legislative leaders have chosen a veteran legal policy analyst to lead the agency that serves as the Maine Legislature’s accountability and transparency watchdog.

Danielle Fox will take over as only the second director of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, or OPEGA, later this summer when Beth Ashcroft departs. Fox is well known around the State House after decades of providing nonpartisan legal and policy analysis to lawmakers on the legislative committee that oversees everything from election law and gambling to the state’s support programs for veterans.

“As chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and a member of that committee for many years, I can’t think of a better person than Danielle Fox for this job,” Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, said earlier this week, moments before legislative leaders unanimously approved Fox for the position. “Her thoroughness and attention to detail is something that obviously, as a former member of OPEGA, I know it needs.”

Fox, who will start in the new position on Aug. 27, has served as legal and policy analyst for the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee for 20 years. In that capacity, Fox and other analysts help guide lawmakers through the complex process of crafting proposed laws as well as providing assistance in committees’ oversight responsibilities over state agencies.

“I’ve been drawn to public service,” Fox said Friday. “I feel strongly about the role of nonpartisan staff serving the Legislature and I just felt that, after 20 years serving the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, it may be time to use my knowledge and experience to serve the Legislature in a new way.”

The Pownal resident will assume leadership of the 10-person OPEGA agency at a busy time.

OPEGA is charged with reviewing the performance and effectiveness of state programs, including evaluating the myriad of tax incentive programs that provide billions of dollars in tax breaks or other financial benefits to recipients. But OPEGA is also responsible for conducting high-profile investigations, some of which have led to major changes.

The office, which reports to the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, is currently conducting a massive review of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ child welfare and child protection programs. The review was sparked by the deaths of two young girls – 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs – in late 2017 and early 2018. Authorities allege the two girls died after suffering long-term abuse at the hands of parents or a caregiver.

On Thursday, the Government Oversight Committee voted unanimously to subpoena DHHS Commissioner Ricker Hamilton to answer questions after the LePage administration declined to send him or anyone else to the meeting. That investigation is expected to continue throughout the year and will likely result in recommended changes at DHHS.

Other high-profile cases on OPEGA’s work list include reviews of allegations of mismanagement within the state’s unemployment compensation programs, claims of political tinkering with the flow of timber from state-owned lands, and ways to improve Maine’s highly utilized citizen’s initiative process.

Fox will work with Ashcroft – who has led OPEGA since its inception 13 year ago – over the next two months to help with the transition.

“It’s clear to me that Beth has established very good processes in the office to manage the workload,” Fox said.

Ashcroft is highly regarded by Republicans and Democrats at the State House for her evenhandedness and ability to conduct impartial, nonpartisan investigations even on politically charged issues.

During Ashcroft’s tenure, OPEGA conducted investigations into illegal document destruction at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, problems at the Riverview Psychiatric Facility and lax policies on disposing of state-owned property. One investigation led to criminal charges against the former head of the Maine Turnpike Authority, and OPEGA had to wade into the politically fraught issue of Gov. Paul LePage’s role in the decision by the Good Will-Hinckley nonprofit to withdraw a job offer to former Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.

Ashcroft said she was very pleased with Fox’s selection for the job.

“Everybody I’ve spoken to has nothing but high regard for her,” Ashcroft said. “I’m particularly pleased to have someone who has so much experience working with legislative committees.”

Sen. Roger Katz, an Augusta Republican who co-chairs the Government Oversight Committee, also praised Fox.

“We are very, very lucky with this appointment,” Katz said Thursday. “I’m sure it is going to be a smooth transition.”

The OPEGA director position has a salary range of $76,150 to $111,092, according to the executive director’s office.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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