Get Real (ID)—following up

We’ve received an e-mail from Ted Farnen at the Department of Revenue that sheds some light on our previous “Get Real (ID)” blog from yesterday in which Senator Schaefer’s claim that the department is improperly disposing of state property is addressed. Ted explained the steps for us to look at the contract that indicates the vendor–and its successors–was required to maintain ownership of the equipment. Here’s what Ted told us:

“The allegation that the Department of Revenue is not properly disposing of “state property” is not correct. In the contract the state signed with Polaroid, in Section 3.1.4 of Section 7 of Exhibit C, it clearly notes the following: “Except as otherwise provided herein, the contractor (Polaroid) must purchase and retain ownership of all equipment, software and materials provided as a part of the contract. ” This makes it clear that the photographic equipment was never state property that had to be disposed of as surplus property.

I think there might also be a misunderstanding about what company with which the state and the Department of Revenue has been dealing. Our driver license vendor in 1972 was a company called DEK. Since that time, that company and its successors have been acquired or purchased by other companies. The company that the state signed the contract with in 2001 was Polaroid Identification Systems. The most recent change occurred in 2011 when L-1 Identity Solutions was acquired by MorphoTrust USA, and that’s who we deal with now.”

Ted told us that MorphoTrust USA is a successor to DEK. A company called Digimarc acquired the government programs business from Polaroid in 2–1. L-1 acquired Digimarc’s secure identity division in 2008 and then MorphoTrust acquired L-1 in 2011. So that’s how the Revenue Department deals with the return of equipment to “the vendor” which retains ownership of it.

Reading government contracts might not be somewhat less interesting than the latest Grisham novel but if you want to read the contract—which is probably a good idea to understand the department’s side of this part of the issue—here are Ted’s instructions for how you can do that:

The contract (#C201040001) can be viewed by following the instructions below.

1. Open this link – <http://oa.mo.gov/purch/webimaging/Homepage.htm>

2. Click on “Please Enter Here…” at the bottom of the page and click “Okay” on drop down

3. Select a saved search…open drop down and select “Search by Contract Number” and type the applicable contract number in the contract number box and enter.

When you get to the screen where it shows you the first 10 choices for the contract, click the word “Next” in the blue ribbon of choices directly below the words “Office of Administration – Awarded Bid & Contract Document Search.” This should take you to a page that has choices of lines 11-20. Click on 12.

Once you get to that new window, click on the icon that looks like a piece of paper with the # symbol in it. It is on the top of the new screen, directly in the middle. This will let you look up separate pages rather than having to go through all 274 pages. The page in question is page 82.

Here’s a couple of hints from your kindly blog composer to avoid some mini-frustration.

You’ll need to have the Oracle viewer on your computer. And you’ll need to have your pop-up blocker turned off.

When you type in, or copy in, the contract number in the blank you are requested tofill in, don’t make the “#” part of it. Just go with the number. We tried about three times before it dawned on us to not use the “#.”  In the process we started to mutter things that are often expressed by the other symbols above the numbers on our keyboard.  But Ted and the Learfield IT department worked us through it.

Again, the section Ted suggests we read is Section 3.1.4 of Section 7 of Exhibit C,

Not many of us have a chance or take the time to pore through a government contract. But here’s your opportunity to learn a little something about what it takes for government to do business with private companies and vice-versa.

We thank Ted Farnen for getting this information to us.

Get Real (ID)

 We’ve been watching the building friction between the legislature and the Department of Revenue for about a month now and chronicling it on our newscasts and in our stories on Missourinet.com.  We cannot explain why the ongoing drama reminds us of something Jeanne Eagels said.  But it does.

Jeanne Eagles was an actress from Missouri who died when she was 35 in 1929.  Some say she was the Marilyn Monroe of her era, a forerunning of Jean Harlow, and the greatest stage actress of her generation.  But she drank to excess, used serious drugs, and became the first actress nominated posthumously for an Oscar.   She supposedly once said, … “Never deny. Never explain.  Say nothing and become a legend.”

We don’t know, of course, if this bonfire fanned by the legislature and the Department of Revenue will become legendary but it certainly is providing entertaining fodder for political junkies as well as for legislative Republicans.  Democrats are laying low.  And Governor Nixon certainly isn’t volunteering any comments about his tax-collecting agency. 

From our observation point, this appears to be the biggest bob-and-weave exercise of the Nixon administration since DNR’s bumbling on Lake of the Ozarks water quality tests shortly after the governor began his first term. 

Let’s see if we can summarize and overly-simplify the events leading up to today. For purposes of over-simplification, we’re skipping some things.

Congress passed the Real ID Act in 2005. It went into effect in May, 2008.  It was enacted when there was much concern about illegal immigration and the possibility that terrorists might be getting into this country too easily.  Bush II was still in office. Our troops were in Iraq.  Homeland Security was telling us the terrorist level was at yellow or red.  TSA people at airports every day  started confiscating thousands of little Swiss Army pocket knives that had toothpicks, tweezers and little bitty scissors in them.

There are many words that can describe the Real ID Act and its implementation.  Many of you probably have your favorites.  Please do not tell us what they are in the “comments” section of this entry.  This is a family publication. 

Anyway, the administration of this law has been a mess.  Less than two years after the law went into effect, the feds announced enforcement would be postponed for two years, until December, 2009.   Thirteen months later, enforcement was pushed back until 2011 because the states weren’t embracing it.  It was about that same time that Homeland Security put out a bulletin on implementation of the driver’s license and non-driver’s ID provisions of the act.  

Legislatures in two dozen states, including Missouri, have told the federal government, in so many words, to take the Real ID act and shove it.  The last we heard, sixteen other states were considering the same message.  The Missouri legislature passed its anti-Real ID bill —by a narrow margin in the House and unanimously in the Senate–in 2009 and Governor Nixon signed it on July 13, an action that causes some brow-furrowing in the current situation because his administration’s Revenue Department has put itself in pretty deep doo-doo as far as the Republican-dominated legislature is concerned. 

A few months ago the Revenue Department put out a news release about this wonderful new driver’s license it was going to start issuing.  It was going to provide much greater protection against identification theft. It was going to make it much harder for underage drinkers to get their booze.  the drawback was that we wouldn’t be able to get our new license at the local office while we waited, as we had done for many years.  A private company with sophisticated equipment to make these special licenses had been hired to do that work.  But we now know the department wasn’t giving us the whole story when it told us how marvelous this new driver’s license would be.  

It appears, in retrospect and after listening to legislative criticism, that the Department of Revenue was deceiving Missourians about what it was up to.  Some members of the legislature are pretty unforgiving about it. The legislative critics we’ve talked to  or who have spoken out on the floors of the House and Senate have said that the department has evaded, hidden, and misled them about what it’s really doing. 

We cover the state Senate, so we’re going to be talking about the discussions on that side of the dome.  But several House members also  are agitated by all of this.  

Early this year some legislators started hearing that department license fee offices in their districts were requiring people to take bunches of personal information with them when they went to get their driver’s licenses, non-driver’s state identification cards, or conceal and carry permits.  Birth certificates.  Marriage licenses.  Divorce papers.  Name-change documents. They were told the documents were being scanned by the people in those offices and the scans were being kept.  Lawmakers were being told by their local Revenue Department offices that Homeland Security was behind it. Oh, no, it’s not being done for Homeland Security and the documents are not being saved, said department officials.   Then in a later meeting with Senate Appropriations chairman Kurt Shaefer, there was an admission that the department had gotten a grant from Homeland Security, an admission that constituted the dangling of a red cloth in front of the legislative bull.  The image that is increasingly coming to mind is of the Revenue Department dashing down the strees of Pamplona on the Missouri with those legislative bulls in hot pursuit.  

Late last week, an accusation came from Schaefer that the department is replacing driver’s license cameras in its fee offices with high-tech Homeland Security cameras that not only take a picture, but also do biometric measurements of the subject’s features. Those costly purchases were never included in any appropriations request, which rankles legislative budget watchers who admit the department didn’t ask for any state money because it had a Homeland Security grant to make these purchases.  But the fact that the department didn’t at least tell legislators about the program has some of these folks fuming. And it might not be wise to make the people who approve your budget any pricklier than they can be.    

We have seen the value of the kind of information those biomedical measurements obtained by these new cameras can provide.  Several years ago after a big brush fire had scorched the battlefield at the Little Big Horn, archaeologists discovered some exposed human remains from the Custer fight of 1876, including partial facial bones.  By matching the dimensions of those skeletal parts to photographs of soldiers who fought there, scientists were able to properly identify who those people were.   And that technology is used in forensic investigations in other ways, too.  But do Mr. and Mrs. Joe Bluecollar need to have driver’s licenses with pictures taken with cameras that map the structures of their faces?  Is the Highway Patrolman who stops Joe for speeding going to make him get out of his car so the trooper can measure the distance between his eyes to make sure that it’s really Joe?  

Senator Shaefer sent the department a subpoena a few days ago demanding documents that Homeland Security says the state filed late last year, several weeks before the first denial that the department had climbed under the covers with that agency.  As part of his letter, he told the department not to get rid of the cameras it had been using because the legislature might reverse these actions one way or another.  

Before the legislature adjourned for this week, Schaefer said he had learned from department sources that the cameras on which the state had spent quite a bit of taxpayers money had been given to the company that makes the licenses and they were being destroyed.   He wants to know what law allows the department to dispose of—and authorize destruction of—state property.  Why weren’t these items handled through the office of surplus property, the way thousands of other outdated state equipment is disposed of.   He and the Senate leadership suggest the department has broken more laws by improperly disposing of state property. The depart has until 4:45 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) to come across with the material Schaefer wants. 

So the plot has been thickening and it threatens to get worse.  Senate floor leader Ron Richard, who decides what bills are debated, has promised Schaefer that the Department of Revenue budget for the next fiscal year will not be debated in the Senate until Schaefer gets satisfactory answers. That is an amount of $470 million dollars in the budget suggested in January by Governor Nixon, that, incidentally, begins the budget narrative with, “Governor Nixon is a firm believer that by working together there is no limit to what can be accomplished.” 

We talked with one Democrat of prominence who wonders if this isn’t just Republicans attacking a Democratic administration while also continuing to emphasize that Missouri can decide not to follow federal laws it doesn’t want to follow.  And it’s been suggested Shaefer might be building some crusading credentials for an Attorney General run in 2016. Anyone who has been a political reporter very long knows that  Capitols are petrie dishes where speculation and innuendo and suspicion are grown. So it’s only natural that they enter into various evaluations of the figures in this drama.  

But the Nixon administration is not helped by its track record of trying to control information reaching the public.  We contacted the department spokesman (we’ve never been allowed to speak to the director) by phone and e-mail after the Senate adjourned Thursday to see if we could get a differing view of all of this.  Rather than take any questions about the latest accusations from Schaefer, he sent a copy of a court order dismissing a Stoddard County complaint against the department’s information-gathering.   We sent back a note saying thanks, but it wasn’t very responsive. 

So Ted Farnen emailed us a new message: “As the Department previously informed the Senate Appropriations Committee staff, the equipment being removed from fee offices is not state property.  As provided for in the contract, the contractor retains ownership of the equipment.”  

My mother used to say, “that’s as clear as mud.”  So back went another email asking for clarification about the cameras not being state property with ownership being retained by “the contractor.”   Are the cameras going back to the company that–based on the response–apparently just leased them to the state, or to the new contractor, Morphotrust? As of this posting there has been no further communication from Farnen.

So here’s the bottom line, based on decades as a reporter watching everything from tempestuous political teapots to impeachments and removals, and indictments and imprisonments:  

Nothing defuses a touchy issue faster than honesty.  Nothing stops witch hunts, real or imagined, quicker than candor.  The wind of evasion only fans the flames higher.  

Jeanne Eagles said, “Never deny. Never explain.”   And that’s okay if you live your life in the fantasy world of stage and screen.  In the real world where words like “transparency” seem to be increasingly too easy to mouth, and where public accountability hides behind political stone walls, the Eagels philosophy can only make some people angry and make others look bad.

Reporters who’ve been in the biz very long have seen this kind of thing time and again.  And we wonder why the people who should learn lessons from these experiences never seem to catch on.

Notes from the Front Lines

Every now and then some things cross our view that are worthy of observation but don’t qualify for a full-blown exploration here.

Today is an important day for Missouri citizens and for Missouri politics.  Looking at how something started can sometimes make one wonder, though, how it got to be what it is today.

March 15, 1907.  The Missouri House approves a Senate resolution giving Missouri voters initiative and referendum.  Three years earlier, Missouri became the first state in American history in which voters rejected initiative and referendum.

One of those who led the campaign in 1908 for voter approval of the two concepts was Doctor William Preston Hill, who told an audience, “This system does not aim to abolish the representative form of government we now have, nor to substitute another in its place.  It leaves our representative system just as it is, but guards it from abuse and from becoming misrepresentative. It will perform the same function as a safety valve on an engine; silent and unnoticed when not needed, but most useful in time of danger.”

Several people in government, including those in the offices of the Secretary of State and the State Auditor, might wonder how upside down Dr. Hill’s statement is today.  And who is doing the most abusing.

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Edonomics. Senator Ed Emery, an engineer by training and by trade, gave the Senate a lesson in economics this week when he supported Senator Will Kraus’ bill cutting personal and corporate income taxes and increasing sales taxes during the next five years.  Kraus maintains his bill is not a tax increase or a tax cut despite pretty clear wording. It’s a change in philosophy, he says. .

Dancing with words aside, we thought Senator Emery’s  economics lesson was interesting.  Understand at the beginning that he does not like the income tax.

“Taxes really don’t pay a state budget. Prosperity does. No matter how high we raise taxes there will be no prosperity, no revenue.  This tax billl moves us in the direction of increased prosperity,” he told the Senate.  He also told the Senate, “The income tax gives me an advantage if I spend money even if I don’t really need to spend it because it may be deductible, and so it helps me reduce my taxes. On the other hand if I’m taxed on consumption  then I’m being frugal.  And so the income tax doesn’t really reinforce frugality. The consumption tax does.”

It’s been a long, long time since the legendary University of Missouri economics professor Pinckney Walker lectured an auditorium full of young people in Econ 51.  But I think one of the lessons he mentioned is that frugality has a place but it doesn’t do much to make an economy grow.  Having sufficient income to buy things does.  And having sufficient income so that consumption taxes don’t consume such a great percentage of that income that opportunities to buy other things–even if they are tax deductible–is curtailed is pretty important in a consumption-based economy.

In a government system that falls back too often on questionable slogans, we have been told that if you want less of something, you tax it.  If you want more of something, you don’t tax it.

One of the great advantages to being a reporter is that reporters are exposed to great varieties of thinking on a great variety of issues.  Sometimes the ideas fit the slogans. Then there are other times.

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Speaking of thinking:

Having a conscience is such a burden.  If we didn’t have one, we could feel free to  ignore reporting the passage of conscience bills in the legislature that are the latest ideas some people have to nullify Roe v. Wade.  House Speaker Tim Jones told members his bill fits in with Catholic doctrinal theory.

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It’s always good to read something other than the headlines.  Attorneys General as far back as we can remember have enjoyed putting out news releases announcing Missouri is going to benefit from a multimillion dollar lawsuit settlement against this or that corporation. We usually discover upon reading farther down on the page that Missouri actually gets about $4.60 or so because dozens of other entities are splitting the proceeds.

The $4.60 is an exaggeration, you know.  Well, maybe not. This week Attorney General Koster announced Missouri was part of a $7 million settlement with Google, which had been collecting data from unsecured wireless networks without the permission of the people mentioned in the data.  Google has agreed to destroy all of the collected data and not do this kind of thing in the future.  And Missouri will get $324,000 or so.

Incidentally, that’s about 4.6% of the seven million dollars.

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The legislature wrapped up the first half of the session yesterday and left for its spring break, coming back on the 25th. After that, except for Easter Monday, lawmakers will be working under increasing pressure until the clock runs out on them May 17th.  There have been sessions where everybody needed a Spring break more than this one just to restore personal sanity.  But Spring breaks are necessary for everybody to unwind a little, get some needed rest, and get some business and family time at home.  Those who have not been part of a legislative session don’t realize how hard they can be and how important next week can be.