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Opinion

A system unaccountable

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” —Thomas Paine

Last week the House Government Oversight Committee received a troubling report from the Ombudsman’s Office citing several areas where some of our professional licensing boards have operated in an unaccountable manner that “invites deep suspicion and distrust” from the public they are purportedly charged with protecting.

The Ombudsman’s report, titled “A System Unaccountable: A Special Report on Iowa’s Professional Licensing Boards,” highlights “shortcomings” in complaint-handling practices that are likely “symptomatic of broader problems” within the system. Specifically, the report cites instances where board investigations into complaints were incomplete; decision-making duties were delegated inappropriately; documentation of deliberations was poorly done; blatant conflict of interest; unprofessional behavior; and dismissal of credible complaints with little or no explanation.

To give some historical perspective, the Ombudsman’s office has received numerous complaints over the past five years against certain state licensing boards for not properly and adequately taking action regarding grievances filed against licensees in their respective fields. In their initial inquiries, the Ombudsman’s office ran into several roadblocks while trying to get to the bottom of these complaints. While the Ombudsman has statutory authority to “examine any and all records and documents of any agency” (including confidential records), the boards shared little information that might be useful in resolving the matter.

It eventually required legislative action in 2015 (initiated in the House Government Oversight Committee) to break the stalemate which gave the Ombudsman’s office explicit access to all agencies’ closed-session records. As soon as the new law was enacted, the Ombudsman wasted no time in renewing their requests for pertinent information. The newly obtained records offered significant insights into the boards’ decision-making rationale and raised new concerns that very little due diligence was given on specific points raised by complainants.

This new insight initiated a full investigation by the Ombudsman into four particular licensing boards that had closed five different cases filed by Iowa citizens who had complained about the lack of thoroughness, explanation, and satisfactory resolution. All five investigations were conducted independently and at the conclusion of each investigation, the findings and recommendations were issued to the four boards. The report given to the House Government Oversight Committee was a consolidated summary of the five investigations concealing the identity of the specific boards and instances, in order to comply with their regulatory authority.

In the summary of the report, the Ombudsman acknowledged that, at first, there was “no reason to believe that the licensing boards’ decisions would not be reasonable and well-founded.” However, after struggling through many bureaucratic obstacles for a long period of time and forcing legislative intervention granting explicit authority to do their job properly, they admitted their surprise to find evidence of “lackadaisical investigations, apathetic board members, poor documentation of deliberations, and questionable outcomes.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the Ombudsman’s conclusion, that the citizens who filed the complaints referenced in the report deserve better. Even more so, the people of Iowa need to be assured and have confidence in a system that is designed to hold licensees of their respective professions accountable to an accepted practice that is properly enforced by a state board charged with faithfully upholding that standard.

I fully expect the House Government Oversight Committee to follow up with the Ombudsman’s office to see what further legislative action is needed.

The Ombudsman’s report may be viewed at the following web link www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/OSR/854006.pdf

Until next time, God bless!

Contact Rep. Greg Heartsill at
641-218-0185
or greg.heartsill@leg.iowa.gov

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