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Idaho legislation to change oversight for Office of Performance Evaluations

The proposed change, which passed the House, would see OPE oversight shift to new oversight committee standards.

BOISE, Idaho — A behind -the-scenes battle is now heading to the full Idaho House for debate. The question: should the Office of Performance Evaluations see its oversight shifted to a new committee?

House Minority Leader, Democrat Rep. Ilana Rubel, said the oversight of the Office of Performance Evaluations, or OPE, should remain with the bipartisan Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, which currently has four Democrats and four Republicans.

A proposal would see that shift over to the legislative council, which is a committee of 8 Republicans and 6 Democrats.

“I would say it's the most important thing happening that you don't know anything about right now,” said Rubel. “So, it would end basically one of the only places we still have in Idaho government where we have neutral bipartisan oversight.”

OPE is a longstanding establishment intended to evaluate whether Idaho state government programs and agencies are operating efficiently, cost-effectively and are achieving intended results. Rubel fears a negative impact if things change to a partisan committee.

“Right now, we have an organization where everybody believes what they say because it's totally neutral and bipartisan. If it were put under the control of Republican leadership, there'd be a loss of credibility," Rubel said.

"But there would be a very big difference in the mission. I think it would what they do all of a sudden would be aligning with the desires of those in control, which is very different from how it works now," she added.

Rubel, a member of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, said the group gets to request three or four formal, detailed reports on agencies and programs per year. She believes that with oversight modifications, such reporting formalities may change as well, then adopting a basic (and potentially less effective) audit on programs.

However, Republicans disagree.

House Majority Leader, Republican Rep. Megan Blanksma, says the idea about moving oversight from the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee to the Legislative Council is simple:

“A lot of people are concerned that those reports aren't going to come out anymore. That is not facts at all...what we have to look at is: JLOC is a fully appointed committee, so those people are not chosen by their peers to represent the thoughts and feelings of the legislature and to determine what agencies need to be reviewed. They're appointed in this other manner," Blanksma said.

"Legislative Council, all of the people that are on Legislative Council have been elected in one way or another by their peers and are presumably, when you run an election, you're going to vote for somebody who you think you can relate to and that will be representative of you. So presumably Ledge Council is representative of the legislators and would do the review in a process that would represent them.”

Blanksma adds that she believes work by the OPE will not see much of a change. “OPE's job is literally in statute. That's what they are supposed to do. And how they're supposed to do is in statute. So, it doesn't really matter what directives come out of whatever council or committee that that is giving the directive."

"As far as partisanship, they still have a system that they have to follow. And so, this whole idea that all of a sudden, the Republicans are going to take something over and destroy it, eh, I find it offensive because we're not out to destroy regardless of some people's opinion. And besides, this is a much more representative way of picking agency reviews," she said.

Blanksma wants to see OPE assignments return toward its intended purpose.

“JLOC for the last couple of years has been approving projects as submitted that aren't necessarily in line with what code says is supposed to do. Right. It's the Office of Performance evaluations," Blanksma said.

"It's supposed to evaluate agencies. I would like to know more about sea otters. That's not their job. And while I appreciate that some of the study work that they've done has been useful to people, they're supposed to be reviewing agencies," she added.

Rubel says the current version of OPE and the oversight works as it is.

“We would never be having a discussion about fixing our school facilities, about what we need to pay educators and classified personnel in schools. None of those studies would be in existence if this bill had gone through previously. Now, thankfully, we have the benefit of those past studies," Rubel said. 

"But I want a future where we have more studies that tell us, you know, real reliable information that's overseen in a bipartisan way that gives decision makers the information they need to do a good job.”

Blanksma said the reaction to her legislation includes "incorrect thoughts about it." Stating that “the actual bill gets rid of JLOC and assigns OPE to a different committee. That's all it does. It doesn't control the conditions of how OPE reports.”

But Rubel rebuttals with concerns that changing the process will impact future reports.

“Nobody will see what's below the iceberg. So, their mission will fundamentally alter. But also, the people overseeing the mission will become very partisan and partisan. It will be the Republican leadership in control of the building will now be in control of the checks and balances on themselves, and they will be in control of any investigation of their work or investigation of their bills or investigation of their agencies,” Rubel said.

Blanksma says changing OPE and its process is not even on the table, much less, in her legislation.

“The structure of OPE is in code. They have certain responsibilities. And unless we change those code responsibilities, it still has the same function," Blanksma said.  "It's just determined by a council which is elected by the members of the legislature rather than an appointed group."

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