Republicans in the Iowa Senate are proposing new accountability measures and new safeguards for “whistleblowers” who reveal misuse of government funds. The steps are in response to the salary scandal at the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium.

Senator Ron Wieck, a Republican from Sioux City, says contractors that receive state money will be required to submit annual audits. “The bill also enhances the authority of the auditor,” Wieck says. “(It) enhances the auditor’s investigative authority if alerted by a whistleblower.” Senator Pat Ward, a Republican from West Des Moines, says the bill also requires open meetings for groups like CIETC that do government work, and publication of all salaries. “A true reform agenda to keep abuse out of government,” Ward says. The senators also plan to hire new lawyers and staff for the ombudsman’s office, which is in the legislative branch of government, to handle all “whistleblower” complaints.

Ward says they’re not pursuing the idea advanced by Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle, who proposed creation of an Inspector General’s office in the executive branch to investigate allegations of spending abuse. “We believe that separation of powers is very important and this proposal that we brought forward keeps the oversight in the legislative branch of government rather than in the executive branch,” Ward says.

Senator David Miller, a Republican from Fairfield, says that separation is key. “Basically setting up a place where a whistleblower could go and feel somewhat of a comfort level,” Miller says. “Right now, if you’re an employee in state government there’s really no where to go if you’re aware of fraud.” The Republican senators want all agencies that get government money to establish written policies that deal with nepotism.

Senator Bob Brunkhorst, a Republican from Waverly whose wife used to be his statehouse secretary, says CIETC obviously had no policy in place because favoritism ran rampant in hiring and pay practices. “A brother should not be able to provide a bonus without a co-signature,” Brunkhorst says. “Just like in the legislature, I can’t give my spouse — if she worked for me — a pay increase.”

Wieck, the Republican senator from Sioux City, says the bill resolves the core issues raised by the CIETC scandal. “I think we have a bill here that should be passed,” Wieck says. The Legislative Oversight Committee, which Wieck now co-chairs, was to hear this (Tuesday) morning from John Bargman (BARJ-mun), the chief operating officer of CIETC, but Bargman was involved in a car accident this morning and asked to appear later. Bargman has already testified on two separate occasions, and last week admitted his six-figure pay was seen by many as “unreasonable.”