Brown to Dismiss Recovery Act Watchdog

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Some 20 months after signing on to monitor how state and local officials spend federal stimulus dollars, Laura Chick says Governor-elect Jerry Brown has decided to close down her operation.

"The incoming administration will eliminate the Office of the Inspector General, which oversees the state's spending of the Recovery Act funds, as of January 1, 2011," reads the letter from Chick released this afternoon.

Chick, the longtime former city controller of Los Angeles, was appointed to the $175,000 a year inspector general post by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in April 2009 and given a task that was both simple and perhaps too complicated: make sure California's share of cash from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was spent properly.

Since then, her website shows completion of about two dozen reviews of various local projects that have been financed with ARRA cash, with a handful more reviews still in the works.

In a phone conversation, Chick said that her operation would have spent no more than $700,000 between January 1 and June 30 (the end of the current fiscal year), and that most of that would be reimbursed by the federal government.

So why shut it down? The Brown campaign hasn't yet returned a call seeking comment.

Chick, a popular Democratic officeholder in her time in Los Angeles, approached the job with a lot of energy and said in an interview that much of what she hoped to do was to stop problems before they ever happened.

But in a detailed letter released today to both Brown and Schwarzenegger (PDF), she said the reality was that the oversight was complicated from the get-go.

"One of the glaring omissions in California's approach to the Recovery funding," she writes, "was the absence of an overarching plan that could have been created at the front end."

And she cites examples:

For instance, the Department of Social Services (DSS) was entitled to receive up to $1.8 billion in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Emergency Contingency Fund money, much of which was targeted at a subsidized employment program. We left over $600 million of these dollars unused by California. If DSS had better coordinated its work with the Employment Development Department (EDD), chambers of commerce, the Office of Economic Development, the Governor's Small Business Advocate, etc. to do better outreach to the businesses community and potential employers, we could have helped more people with these unclaimed dollars.

The federal dollars promised to California are still making their way westward; Chick estimates that half of the state's help remains to be spent over the coming year.

Chick says one of Brown's top transition aides gave her the bad news Friday. "The Governor-elect faces an extremely difficult job in grappling with the severity of the state budget crisis," she wrote in a publicly released email this afternoon. "He received an overwhelming mandate by the voters to make tough decisions, and I wish him the very best during the months ahead."

I'll have an updated posting with the Brown's camps comments when they call back.

3:24 p.m. Update: Here's the written statement from Jim Humes, one of the governor-elect's top transition aides:

"In response to the state’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit, Governor-elect Jerry Brown will be streamlining operations and eliminating redundancies in the Governor’s Office and throughout state government. The Legislature established the Office of the Inspector General on a limited term basis, and it was set to expire on June 30, 2011. Governor Brown will discontinue the program six months earlier, when he assumes office. The six pending audits being performed by the Inspector General will be concluded by other state auditing entities, such as the Bureau of State Audits, the State Controller’s Office, or the Office of Audit and Evaluations in the Department of Finance. Ending this redundancy will save the state’s General Fund over $700,000 in fiscal year 2010-11."

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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