Gov. Paul LePage needs to walk over to Maine's Department of Health and Human Services and handle some personnel problems, and soon.
While the governor was announcing a controversial new program Wednesday to allow more commercial tree cutting on public lands, Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, was talking about a mysterious $1 million payment buried deep in DHHS records.
Gattine seems to have unearthed an unusually large payout to the private contractor tasked with arranging rides for disabled and elderly Mainers to their jobs and medical appointments.
Gattine told the Portland Press Herald that he has been asking DHHS for answers for several weeks without success.
This is the latest chapter in the miserable saga of Coordinated Transportation Solutions. The company obtained a $28.3 million contract from the state to arrange the rides, and began work Aug. 1.
But complaints immediately flooded DHHS, and local newspaper offices, from thousands of riders who were stranded, dropped in the the wrong locations, stood up by drivers or simply unable to contact the company at all.
After months of poor performance, DHHS finally canceled the CTS contract as of June.
While it's good Gattine is asking questions, there is little doubt about what happened here.
The state put the work out to bid and then accepted a suspiciously low bid from CTS, a company with a checkered history of low-balling bids in other states.
CTS claims it based its bid on inaccurate workload estimates provided by DHHS. Other contractors in the same field, however, have told the Sun Journal that CTS' bid was so low it should have raised red flags at DHHS.
This fiasco cannot be blamed upon the contractor alone.
If the estimated scope of the bid was incorrect, that was DHHS' fault. If DHHS officials were snookered by an unreasonably low bid, that's also DHHS' fault for not investigating the company's ability to complete the work at the stated price.
DHHS compounded this error by requiring and then never receiving a performance bond from the contractor. That bond money could now be used to help cover these unexpected expenses, but CTS never provided it.
This is Contract Management 101. Why was the company allowed to start the work without providing the bond? That someone at DHHS never checked that it had been received is outrageous.
That CTS never obtained a bond clearly shows the company was either too shaky to obtain one or that failure was part of its plan. The company probably counted on coming back to the state for more money or using its failure as leverage for a more lucrative contract.
It is troubling that Commissioner Mary Mayhew's department has not responded to a legitimate request from a legislator for an explanation for the big payout, but it's not surprising.
She was silent last week in the face of strong evidence that people beneath her destroyed documents to conceal a bid-rigging scandal within the agency's Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last week, Mayhew finally fired the head of the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta after months of turmoil, understaffing and violence at the facility. LePage and Mayhew's failure to address problems there in a timely fashion has resulted in the loss of an estimated $20 million in federal funding.
We all know that President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk: "The buck stops here." In the LePage administration, the buck for internal incompetence doesn't seem to stop anywhere.
Instead, the governor tends to dismiss all complaints, valid or not, as politically motivated.
Yet his opponents didn't hire the unqualified ride contractor, CTS. His enemies didn't fail to obtain the required bond for the contractor. His critics didn't tell his people to rig bids and destroy public documents. And his foes had nothing to do with the mismanagement at Riverview psychiatric and the loss of federal funding.
These are management failures. If the governor won't address them now, his opponents should force him to do so in this year's election.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.