The growing list of misrepresentations made to Oregon legislators, including the Joint Legislative Audits, Information Management and Technology Committee (designated watchdog for the roll-out of Cover Oregon) points out the need for legislators to finally acknowledge reality: They’ve sadly descended into a world where the truth is the first casualty of politics.
In this world, telling the truth to Legislators is viewed as quaint, naive, or even counterproductive. There are too many reasons to fib: the desire to be successful, the millions and potentially billions of dollars that hinge on messaging, holding the party line and delivering the win. Add the pressure of lobbyists, political bosses, cronies, sycophants and hangers-on and the truth looks like risky business.
In the case of Cover Oregon, the Obama administration was looking for a prototype for national health insurance and was willing to pay for it, $300 million for health care accessible via the Internet.
The big money incentives for this ground-floor opportunity proved too much to resist, particularly in a state whose governor has advocated universal health care for most of his career.
So, when it came time for the legislature to gauge Cover Oregon’s performance at key benchmarks, is it any wonder that the storyline was doctored?
Could anything have prevented this debacle?
Yes: Putting witnesses under oath when they testify before legislative committees.
In recent years Oregonians have witnessed a series of disastrous information technology meltdowns, including the failure to deliver communications interoperability between first responders, a state data center roll-out plagued by security issues and inefficiencies and a DMV computer database upgrade where costs ballooned out of control. Today, it is the embarrassing failure to launch the Cover Oregon website. These boondoggles are the direct result of incomplete or deceptive testimony.
So, let’s take a lesson: Whenever witnesses testify on programs involving the expenditure of huge sums of money or new obligations that will burden our citizens for decades, place them under oath. If there are layers of complexity, or if there are professional, personal or financial incentives to hide the truth, require sworn testimony. Make clear that willful misrepresentation would be considered perjury opening the witness to criminal or civil liability.
Let’s make the obligation universal so every individual, including legislators and the governor would be obligated to speak the truth.
Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) is the state senator for District 30, which includes Grant County.