Louisianans who pay attention to state politics are well acquainted with Gov. Bobby Jindal's do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do attitude toward government transparency, but his latest moves to keep the workings of his office out of public view may take the cake. Jindal's administration is in the final stages of awarding a lucrative state contract estimated to be worth at least $300 million over the next 10 years — and it has done everything possible to keep the deal under wraps. The contract calls for a private firm to process claims for the state's $6.6 billion Medicaid program, which provides health care for Louisiana's poor. This contract is a very, very big deal.
One would think that a governor at least ought to tell state lawmakers which company would be managing health claims for more than 1 million Louisianans, but Jindal and Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein squalled at the very idea. Greenstein, who has yet to be confirmed by the Louisiana Senate, had the audacity to stonewall questions about the contract during his confirmation hearings. Under pressure, he relented and admitted that the contract would go to the Beltway-based firm CNSI. No wonder Team Jindal wanted to keep things quiet: a former vice-president of CNSI is ... Bruce Greenstein. He worked there in 2005 and 2006.
Greenstein claims he kept himself out of the bid process, which involved three other firms bidding for the big contract. If that's true, why all the secrecy?
Maybe it's because Greenstein wasn't so far removed from the bid process after all. It turns out DHH changed the bid specifications after Greenstein arrived — and the change actually let CNSI in the door. There's more. Greenstein, who initially said he erected "a wall" between himself and the bid process, later admitted that he met with CNSI and other potential bidders to discuss his "vision" for the contract. And in a Jan. 7 email, Greenstein discussed minute details of the bid requirements — at a time when he since claimed he had nothing to do with the process. "There was no wall," Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, told Greenstein. "You were in fact aware and you were knowledgeable."
Greenstein says the changes were not made at his request and they benefited other companies as well as CNSI, but that's beside the point. Deals such as the one CNSI stands to get from the Jindal administration would have been brought to light sooner, at least partially, if Louisiana had a law similar to Senate Bill 57 by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton. Unfortunately, despite all his jawboning about "reform" and "transparency," Jindal moves heaven and earth every year to kill any "sunshine" bills that apply to his office. Just last week, his forces kneecapped SB57 on the Senate floor by a vote of 14-22, ensuring that Jindal's will remain one of the least transparent governor's offices in the country.
The Public Affairs Research Council (PAR), a nonpartisan good-government group, said SB57 would have opened many records of the governor's office to public view. Well, that explains it. Jindal obviously thinks he owes the public no explanation of — nor even a peek at — what he's up to or how his administration makes decisions. The end result was on full display at Greenstein's confirmation hearings: a high-profile department head having to admit that his former employer is in line for a lucrative state contract from his department.
This is a pattern for Jindal. Last year, Adley introduced a bill to open up state records relating to the BP oil disaster. That bill breezed through the House and Senate but was quickly vetoed by the governor. Many think it was no coincidence that, only weeks earlier, Jindal was honored at a $1,000-a-person fundraiser hosted by a guy with ties to BP. In typical fashion, Jindal's office refused to reveal who was hosting the fundraiser, but the media found out and revealed the host as Mike Worley, a Hammond contractor whose company, Worley Catastrophe Response, processed spill claims for BP and later for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. Jindal ignored howls of protest to return the money.
To say Jindal is a hypocrite on the issue of transparency may be the understatement of the year.