After reading Education Secretary Melody Schopp’s lawyer-approved written responses to the Government Operations and Audit Committee’s questions about the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal, I wrote that we needed to hear from former Office of Indian Education director Roger Campbell to elaborate on some of Schopp’s responses.
Son of a gun—Secretary Schopp obliged and then some! Contrary to her state-provided counsel Paul Bachand’s advice, Secretary Schopp dumped a bunch of documents from Campbell and the Department into GOAC’s lap relating to how Campbell and Schopp acted on concerns about financial misconduct at Mid-Central in 2012:
- Bachand letter with narrative and key excerpts
- April 2012 e-mail and documents
- More April 2012 documents and August 2012 e-mails
These are long documents, worth multiple posts. For the moment, let’s read an e-mail from then-OIE director Campbell to Secretary Schopp in which he provides background of the GEAR UP program and a summary of his concerns about poor oversight of the federal grant:
What do we learn here?
- [bottom p.1] Campbell says that from 2005 through 2011, the first GEAR UP grant period, Mid-Central ran GEAR UP with “almost complete autonomy”—i.e., with almost no oversight from the Melmer/Oster/Schopp Department of Education.
- [bottom p.1–top p.2] When Campbell “initially took the position” of OIE director (and that was March 2011), “a number of challenges had been communicated to [Campbell] from the DOE about Gear Up and a more recent grant, College Access Challenge.” He wrote of a “history” of “questions about accountability” in GEAR UP. If Campbell is using his verb tense accurately, he is saying that he walked into OIE knowing about a number of problems with GEAR UP that had been going on long enough to be called a “history”.
- [p. 2 parag. 3] Campbell approached Mid-Central and AIII (American Indian Institute for Innovation, Stacy Phelps’s outfit) twice in 2011 to talk about “changes to fiscal reporting due to some of the concerns” raised about GEAR UP. This document does not say what results those two conversations produced.
- [p. 2 parags 3–4] Campbell said a Mid-Central contractor took two months to respond to his request for a list of employees and grant allocation for each and that the list produced didn’t match the original budget. Campbell cites other delays in providing information, multiple instance of poorly defined job/grant responsibilities, payment of employees from both grants “at amounts inconsistent with SD DOE standards,” unauthorized and unnecessary grant expenses, conflicts of interest, questionable travel expenses inconsistent with expected policies. Campbell’s arguably most damning sentences read, “Prior to the new Gear Up grant none of the accountability measures that I am instituting had been followed. We have also communicated to the feds through the annual performance report that there were certain activities that had taken place but in fact they had not.“
- [p. 2 parag 6]: Campbell said GEAR UP had never been audited in its seven years of operation at that time.
- [p.2 parag 7]: Campbell said the GEAR UP Project Directors up to that point (and if I’m reading it right, that means past OIE directors, including Keith Moore) had made “little effort… to provide oversight” of GEAR UP. Absent such oversight, Mid-Central had entered “incorrect” agreements with its partners or “not follow[ed] proper grant administration.”
- [p. 3 parag 1] Campbell said “It is the responsibility of the DOE to ensure the oversight and integrity of the grant and its initiatives….” For you folks who think all the blame for the GEAR UP scandal lies in the doorstep of the coop office in Platte, read that again: “It is the responsibility of the DOE to ensure the oversight and integrity of the grant and its initiatives….“
In that one document, Roger Campbell makes clear that we weren’t talking about forgetting to carry the two on a couple lines of the Mid-Central ledger. We’re talking Charlie doing the Foxtrot, a local cooperative making bad contracts, paying people for who-knows-what, blowing travel money, causing bogus info to be sent to the feds, and ignoring policies and grant requirements left and right while nobody in Pierre was watching.
If that’s what Campbell saw, and if that’s what the Department of Education knew in August 2012 when Campbell wrote this e-mail or March 2011 when Campbell took the OIE job, it is shocking that the Department of Education would allow the malfeasants at Mid-Central to keep playing with millions of Uncle Sam’s dollars.
Stay tuned for more from the Campbell files….
I’m assuming Campbell used the word poor oversight because it has less letters than complete lack of oversight.
Even Campbell tried telling DOE that things were looking suspicious at MCEC. Campbell, the guy that Phelps recommended for the job!
Where is the leadership, SD? Where is that conservatism that you pride yourself of having? Just knock it off with grabbing these grants and getting on the gravy train with no oversight. Bunch of hypocrites. No one was really serious with getting this money to Native Americans for college now, were they.
Yeah, these are the emails that lead me to hardly use email ever…….. #plausibiledeniability
Joseph, I may not approve, but the Department of Education may want you to work for them. ;-)
Yes, Jenny, Mike, this document alone from Campbell makes even clearer the lack of oversight and leadership in Pierre. Mid-Central was a mess in 2011 and 2012. DOE could have pulled the grant from Mid-Central and assigned it to the Board of Regents then as surely as DOE was able to do so in 2015. But the Daugaard/Schopp administration appears to have preferred to keep things quiet and in house, keep the money flowing to Platte’s leaky bucket, and hope nothing bigger would go wrong and get headlines. Oops.
If so, Mr. H, how should the GOAC fix it? It is their responsibility to change laws to prevent future similar occurances. Mr. Nelson and you want to witch hunt and punish the evil doers. Not his job. He’s a fixer, not a punisher. Shame. Shame.
I think the solution is 2 part
1- is you have to change the laws and the climate in Pierre. whistleblower laws, forensic audits of departments, and push the laws so those that are guilty go to jail
2- Is with this case and that is you get to the bottom of it, and if people need to go to jail you make sure that happens.
Hey there Grudz-would you EVER had this much exposure to GEAR-UP ‘ins and outs” without reading bout it here on DFP???!! You and others like you just love to shoot the messenger, don’t you!
Mr. Jake, it’s in the real news media here in Rapid City. Unlike Mr. Nelson, I answer questions directly: Yes. I read the news every day.
Then I come here to blog the truth at fellows like you. No need to thank me, or you can do it later by leaving a bundle of PBR in the park. One of my friends will bring it to me.
It seems to me that some people spend too much time and effort trying to tie Sen Stacey’s hands. The GEAR-UP program was full of good intentions but led only to a few thieves living way beyond their means while no one with any authority lifted a finger to steer the program back to where it was intended. Stacey seems to want nothing more or less than the truth. There are people alive in this state and elsewhere with direct knowledge of the small crimes that led to the big tragedy. The facts need to come to light and if Stacey is able to accomplish that, good – it’s past time someone did. Apparently our Governor, Attorney General, State Auditor, Treasurer, Secretary of Education and others have been either unwilling or unable to do so.
I don’t want a witch hunt, Grudz. I do want to see justice done. Removing all responsible for this corruption, particularly the leaders of departments, is as important to preventing future corruption as any legal reforms GOAC may recommend. The current DOE leadership responded to expressed concerns about corruption by firing the first known whistleblower in 2011, then countenancing all sorts of documented misconduct by handing the misconductors millions more in federal money to play with for three years. That tells me the current DOE leadership is not to be trusted and should be replaced with more reliable, less politically beholden leaders.