Capitol Alert

De León eliminates government oversight office

Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, is sworn in as the new president pro tem of the Senate by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye on Dec. 1.
Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, is sworn in as the new president pro tem of the Senate by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye on Dec. 1. The Associated Press

California Senate leader Kevin de León has eliminated a legislative staff unit that focused on government oversight, a creation of his predecessor, former Sen. Darrell Steinberg.

Steinberg created the Senate’s Office of Oversight and Outcomes in 2008, staffing it with a team of former journalists who dug into the functions of numerous state agencies. Over the years, the office produced more than two dozen reports critical of many aspects of state government.

Their investigations found that a lack of scrutiny allowed sex offenders to treat drug addicts at state rehab clinics; that California’s mortgage lender foreclosed on homeowners who were current on their loans; that redevelopment agencies spent money without adequate accountability; and that tax breaks had cost the state $6.3 billion more than anticipated. Other reports made recommendations for curbing fraud in the home health care system and found that an illogical bureaucracy made it hard for regulators to detect fraud in state child care programs. The findings were frequently used as the basis for Senate oversight hearings and also led to new legislation, according to a July report by the unit.

The office included three consultants and a legislative aide, whose combined annual salaries totaled about $379,000, according to a Senate payroll from May. Those staff members were considered Steinberg’s employees and their positions disappeared when he left office Nov. 30 due to term limits, said de León’s spokesman Anthony Reyes.

“As is commonplace under term limits, hundreds of staff-persons for termed-out Members were reminded back in September that their current employment was coming to end and these four staff-persons were part of that process,” said a written statement from Reyes.

Reyes’ statement did not say why the office was not retained, but said the Senate would “continue to be served by the comprehensive and robust oversight functions provided by our budget and policy committees, as well as our Joint Legislative Audit Committee and Legislative Analyst’s Office.”

Steinberg said Friday that he was sad to see the office go but understood the inclination for a new leader to shake things up.

“I took pride in what that office did over six years. They produced tremendous work,” Steinberg said.

“I have every confidence that Kevin is committed to oversight, but there are many ways to do it. This is the way I chose to do it and I’m sure he will have his way.”

The elimination of the oversight office comes as de León reshapes the Senate staff makeup after taking control of the upper house in mid-October. Last month, de León laid off 39 employees, including staff who wrote bill analyses, did research and performed secretarial duties. Earlier this month he laid off a shoeshiner whom the Senate paid $13,000 a year to provide information to Capitol visitors. Senate officials have blamed the layoffs on a budget problem, saying they face a multimillion dollar shortfall because the Senate had more staff than it could afford to pay.

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.

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