26 Dec 2008, 10:33am
Homo sapiens
by admin

Corruption, Featherbedding, and Looting the Idaho Treasury

Fancy Footwork with Funding in the Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game

In a stunning expose’, the latest issue of The Outdoorsman details ten years of gross mismanagement, cronyism, and budget shenanigans in the Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game. Beginning in March, 1999, with the firing of Idaho Fish and Game Director and reformer Steve Mealey, subsequent Directors have systematically looted dedicated sportsman funds, hired hundreds of “temporary” employees at exorbitant salaries, and squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on unauthorized and bogus “programs” that do not benefit fish or wildlife.

The Outdoorsman is a newsletter produced by sportsman and journalist George Dovel of Horseshoe Bend, ID. In the Oct-Dec 2008 issue [here] a series of articles probe the latest IDFG fee increases and budget spinning. From Dovel’s own in-depth review of the sorry decline of IDFG, “Lack of Integrity in State Wildlife Management”:

In December of 1996 Steve Mealey was hired as to correct the mismanagement of wildlife and license dollars by former Director Jerry Conley.  After several weeks of meeting with agency employees and the various interest groups, Mealey vowed to end the practice of what he termed “combat biology,” and issued a set of working principles to all Department personnel to be followed …

During his second year as Director, Mealey appeared before a joint legislative hearing with his Administrative Chief Steve Barton and promised the legislators he would end the misappropriation of sportsmen license dollars. …

But Mealey was fired during that meeting and his Deputy, Jerry Mallet, promptly re-hired [ousted Administrative Chief Steve] Barton to continue his financial slight-of-hand with dedicated sportsman funds.  The three eco-activists on the Commission waited until a new Governor was sworn in to fire Mealey, and Commisioner Burns commented, “This marks the end of wildlife management (in Idaho) as we have known it.”

It also marked the end of the Commission’s effort to restore fiscal responsibility in the State agency. …

The annual salaries of the top IDFG officials now exceed those of the Idaho Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Controller, and Treasurer. That’s the tip of the iceberg, however. Utilizing a loophole in Idaho law, the IDFG has hired hundreds of “temporary” employees who receive wages and benefits in excess of the permanent so-called “full-time” employees with classified job titles.

Not only are the five IDFG employees who share the Director’s duties being paid more than their counterparts in charge of State government, there are other well-paid IDFG executives running various functions in the Bureaus and Regions.  And these do not include 12 so-called “Natural Resource Program Coordinators” who draw an average annual salary of $68,000. …

Although these examples reflect an overabundance of high-salaried executive-level employees, they still do not present the full picture of this exploding agency that is currently limited to 528 full-time equivalent positions (FTPs). …

But conflicting definitions in I.C. Sec. 67-5302 allow a State agency to hire unlimited numbers of special “temporary” employees (often referred to as “8-month temps”) who receive all the benefits of FTPs if enough money is appropriated to cover their wages and benefits.  Each year IDFG exaggerates both its projected total income and specific non-game expenditures by several million dollars in its proposed budget, which allows it to spend even more money on non-game projects and employees, without having to seek new spending authority (see June-July 2008 Outdoorsman page 7).

In a Nov. 26, 2008 reply to a query from Viola sportsman Jim Hagedorn, Administrative Assistant IDFG Director Bill Hutchinson advised that the IDFG Budget Proposal for FY 2010 (from July 1, 2023 through June 30, 2023) includes 424 benefited temporaries and “many” non-benefited temporaries.  Added to the 528 FTPs that Hutchinson said are in that budget, it represents 952 IDFG employees that will be drawing full benefits in the Fiscal Year beginning seven months from now.

The “Benefited Temps” cost more than the permanent full-time employees, yet they are prohibited from working more than  1,385 hours in a 12-month period –- the equivalent of eight months at 40 hours per week. Idaho is paying more in personnel costs to people who work part-time than to full-timers. And while the full-time employee (FTE) number is limited by the Idaho Legislature, the number of temps is not. Hence the IDFG budget is exploding.

The Idaho State Controller recorded wages paid to IDFG employees in FY2008 (including severance packages for some of the 354 employees that ended employment during that period) totaling $29.3 million.  Yet total (Actual) Personnel Costs for FY 2008 are estimated* to be about $40 million – one-third higher.

(* The Appropriated FY 2008 Personnel Budget amount published in the 2009 Legislative Budget Book is $43.8 million and in FY 2007 Actual Personnel Costs were $3.8 million less than the Appropriated amount.)

While the foregoing explanations may be a bit confusing to the average reader – what should not be confusing to anyone is the fact that the projected personnel (employee) cost in the IDFG budget increased from $42.3 million in FY 2007 to $46.5 million in FY 2009 – $4.2 million  higher in just two years!  The Governor’s Recommended expenditure for personnel in FY 2009 was even $1.1 million higher than that at $47.6 million.

The bulk of the “Benefited Temps” do something other than the statutory, mandated work of IDFG, which is ostensibly to manage fish and game. This is despite the fact that fishing and hunting license revenues provide the bulk of the funding for IDFG!

A check of 33 higher-salaried benefited temps in FY 2008 (with assorted titles like “Staff Biologist” and “Conservation Educator”) reveals that only two of the 33 may help benefit game species that are harvested by hunters.

The remaining 31 consist of nongame biologists, botanists, GIS analysts and educators who are paid almost one million dollars plus benefits to supplement the staff in the Conservation Data Center or promote bird watching and similar non-hunting activities from Headquarters or the Regions. These 31 are in addition to the 27 authorized FTPs in the Natural Resource Policy Bureau and the Nongame FTPs in the Wildlife Bureau and the Regions.

In addition to their wages and benefit costs, these non-game employees nearly double the requirement for office space, computers and other high-tech equipment, utilities, communications, maintenance, vehicle use, other infrastructure and capital outlay – all of which are in short supply – with no adequate source of income to pay those extra costs except hunters’ and fishermen’s license fees.

But because these expenses are included in the budgets of the various Bureaus, with no breakdown of what dollars pay for what expenses, IDFG can pretend sportsmen are not paying “most” of them.  They ignore the fact that sportsman license dollars fund a majority of the expenses in all but one of the Bureaus.

That is why analysts from the Legislative Services Budget Office and the Division of Financial Management insisted IDFG trace the source of every dollar spent to prevent the appearance that it is hiding something (June-July 2008 Outdoorsman).  And the reason IDFG failed to keep its commitment to do this is because it is hiding something –- its ongoing misuse of sportsman license fees to fund its eco-activist programs. …

Hiring nongame biologists to “manage” over 1,000 recorded Idaho non-game vertebrates and invertebrates and accepting responsibility (and hiring botanists) to “manage” 2,800 Idaho plant species from Parks and Rec. in 2003 (see page 3) placed an impossible burden on the agency and on the hunters and fishermen who foot the bills.  With the exception of nongame elk license plates purchased by hunters, other sources of matching state money for federal nongame funds provide very few dollars.

Millions of dollars are spent on bogus programs such as “Watchable Wildlife” which allegedly is supposed to develop bird-watching trails and wildlife viewing sites. Not only are those dollars spent on something else, only a small minority of outdoor tourists claim “wildlife watching” as a primary activity, and the number such “users” is in sharp decline.

Although more than a third of the visitors said they enjoyed seeing natural wonders, relaxing, hiking and seeing wildlife on their visit, only 2.3%* reported viewing wildlife as a primary activity!  But even more revealing, despite millions of dollars reportedly spent by the agencies to  over the past few years, National Forest visitor use declined dramatically from FY2004 through FY2007!

(* The tiny 2.3% viewing wildlife compares to 16.5% hiking or walking; 15.0% hunting or fishing; 14.8% downhill skiing; and 13.4% viewing natural features)

Dovel concludes his essay with the following admonition:

When IDFG Commissioner Gary Power helped rewrite the Department’s 15-year strategic plan, “The Compass,” to address sportsmen concerns about funding for the vast array of non-hunting/fishing programs, it included the following commitment to Sportsmen: “The Department will not use hunting and fishing license fees to meet all the desires of the public, other agencies and local governments for managing fish, wildlife and native plants.”

Yet Power recently joined the other six Commissioners in unanimously approving a proposed 20% sportsman license fee increase – with “80% of that increase intended to support the status quo.”  The Commission continues to make hunters and fishermen support extremist agendas that conflict with Idaho Wildlife Policy.

Other articles in the Oct-Dec 2008 issue of The Outdoorsman include “Fee Increase Will Not Correct Mismanagement of Idaho Wildlife and Sportsmen License Dollars” by Ed Lindahl, “Is It Wrong For The Sportsmen Who Pay The Bills To Get Something For Their Money?” by Harvey Peck, and “Fish and Game News or Nongame Propaganda?” by Jim Hagedorn.

Subscriptions and donations to The Outdoorsman may be made by mailing a check (for $25 or more) to:

The Outdoorsman
P.O. Box 155
Horseshoe Bend, ID 83629

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