Honolulu Advertiser Second Opinion column by Cliff Slater
August 16, 2001
For the sake of brevity in the footnotes, I shall use ‘First Report’ to refer to:
Assessment of the State’s Efforts Related to the Felix Consent Decree: A Report to the Governor and the Legislature of the State of Hawaii. Report No. 98-20. The Auditor, State of Hawaii. December 1998.
‘Second Report’ refers to:
Schwartz, Ira M. & Gelles, Richard J. of the Center for the Study of Youth Policy, School of Social Work, University of Pennsylvania. Follow-Up Review of the State’s Efforts to Comply with the Felix Consent Decree: A Report to the Governor and the Legislature of the State of Hawaii. Submitted by the State Auditor. January 2001.
(1) The spending shown in the Second Report, p. 28. Figure 2, Felix Expenditures, Fiscal Years 1994-2000 totals $1,339,612,381. To this must be added approximately $350,000,000 for fiscal year 2001 for a grand total of $1.7 billion.
(2) See the First Report, p.7. for the Felix “Organizational Hierarchy.”
(3) Ms. Higa in testimony before the House/Senate Felix investigative committee, co-chairs Rep. Scott Saiki (D, McCully) and Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae) on July 13, 2001 at the Legislature.
(5) The Second Report, page 39, notes that the “recent Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health” says about 9% to 13% of American children and adolescents have “serious emotional disturbances.” If Hawaii has roughly the same situation, and if one uses an average of 11%, then that would be around 36,000 in the Felix class of the “approximately 326,000 children and adolescents under the age of 19 in the state” who could be so classified. The consultants forecast, on page 8 of the Second Report, a potential Felix population of 29,000 to 40,000.
(6) “… the Department of Education’s practice for reporting Felix-related expenditures results in over-inflated and unreliable figures.” First Report, p. 21.
(7) “The lack of clear and consistent budgets and expenditures reporting results in a situation in which it is impossible to determine the cost of providing services to the Felix class.” Second Report, p. 28.
(8) Second Report, page 11.
(9) First Report, page 32, Exhibit 2.6.
(10) Second Report, page 31 & ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE WHY DEFENDENTS SHOULD NOT BE FOUND IN CIVIL CONTEMPT OF CONSENT DECREE AND FOR INJUNCTIVE AND OTHER RELIEF; Felix vs. Cayetano. U.S. District Court. District of Hawaii. Civil No. 93-00367 filed dated June 1, 2000. p. 16.
Felix reports disheartening
As more students qualify for Felix, disturbing reports show gross overspending, lack of management and inconsistent accounting.
Having read the two reports on the Felix issue by State Auditor Marion Higa together with rebuttals from the Administration, I decided to sit in on the recent joint House/Senate Committee Felix hearing.
You need a sense of humor for government hearings. For example, shortly after we were told by the co-chair that state spending on Felix had passed the billion dollar mark one of the House Committee members somewhat plaintively asked, “Shouldn’t we have had a plan?”
Even more amusing was that, on closer examination (see footnotes), the spending turned out to be not the $1 billion they told us, but actually closer to $2 billion but—hey!—who’s counting?(1)
Then there was the interchange where legislators were trying to find out who was really in charge of the Felix affair. The Department heads of Health and Education together with both Judge Ezra’s Court Monitor and his Special Master all seemed to have a role. So did the Felix Operational Manager—whoever that is—and let us not forget the Board of Education.
Then Sen. Hanabusa asked our State Auditor whom she considered to be the one person in charge of Felix matters. There was a great deal of hesitation about this but after some discussion they finally settled on—the Governor. That there had to be hesitation and discussion to decide who was running things tells the rest of us all we need to know about the management of Felix.(2)
In this context it is not surprising to hear the State Auditor claim that getting information and cooperation from the various departments that are the subject of her two Felix reports was the most difficult of the more than 200 she has done in the last nine years.(3)
The Felix problem is familiar: Lack of management, lack of adequate and consistent accounting, inadequate management reports, etc. Pick your government department; none are any different.
But Felix is, I sense, more out of control than most. Take the number of children qualifying as Felix class members. The Auditor’s first report in 1998 found that there were then, according to the Health and Education Departments, 4,100 students who qualified for the Felix class. In the Auditor’s second report in 2000 that 1998 figure had somehow been restated to 9,600 students.(4) Now we are warned that the eventual total of all Felix children might well climb to over 30,000—more than triple the current number.(5)
Considering that we presently spend $25,000 per Felix child (also climbing steadily) this could way more than triple the current spending of $350 million annually.(6)
However, we do not know whether the $25,000 is correct. For example, in her first report, the Auditor found that the DOE’s “practice for reporting Felix-related expenditures results in over-inflated and unreliable figures.” (7) Interestingly, the Administration’s lengthy rebuttal did not bother to address this issue. Subsequently, the Auditor’s second report found a “lack of clear and consistent budgets and expenditures reporting” that made it impossible to determine Felix costs.
What has driven up costs? One indicator is that, in many cases, independent fee-paid psychologists are both evaluating and recommending treatment for Felix children and then administering (and getting paid for) the treatment that they recommend.(8) Another is that fees paid to Felix mental health professionals appear to be excessive when compared to similar payments elsewhere in Hawaii. (9)
Why is it out of control? One example is that despite the state agreeing in 1994 to develop a management information system for Felix cases, seven years later they have still not produced it—seven years! (10)
To know more we are going to have to wait for revelations from the ongoing House/Senate investigation. For one thing we may get told who pays, and how much, for the Felix plaintiffs’ attorneys; that will be an interesting number.
Whatever the outcome, Governor Cayetano must take a more active role to get Felix under control with better management. The current situation is a tragic joke.
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater