Government officials, advocacy groups, editorial boards and individual Iowans will soon begin picking apart the Iowa Office of Ombudsman’s annual report. We hope the literal “horror” it contains isn’t lost in the fray.
The Office of Ombudsman is an independent and impartial agency in the legislative branch that investigates complaints against agencies or officials of state and local governments. The governor, lawmakers and judges, as well as all their staff members, fall outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. It works with agencies in an attempt to rectify problems.
Because its work is unparalleled, the Ombudsman is often first to sound alarms about systemic issues negatively impacting the ability of Iowans to efficiently and effectively interact with government.
The sheer number of requests handled by the small and underfunded office last year is staggering; the tiny glimpse into a handful of those cases is, at best, unsettling.
What possible justification exists for forcing a quadriplegic man out of his family’s home and into higher-cost institutionalized care? How can hearsay be a legitimate basis for sending a person on work-release back to prison?
The ultimate resolution of some of the nearly 5,000 cases opened by the Ombudsman last year can’t mitigate legitimate, heartbreaking anger about their very existence.
“It is difficult for us to publicly criticize agencies for making mistakes or allowing problems to languish when they lack the staff or resources to perform their jobs well. But the reality is, the mission of some of these agencies requires their staffs to make vital, life-changing decisions. If those staffs lack the resources or support to make timely decisions, or the right decisions, I fear that there will be a terrible price to pay,” Ombudsman Kristie Hirschman concludes. “It could be a horror story in the making.”
It’s a potential horror of our own making.
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When voters elect men and women more focused on the next election than the business of governing, more interested in the wants of well-funded interest groups than the needs of state residents, this is the unacceptable result.
Understaffed agencies mean less oversight of wards of the state, elderly residents in nursing homes and inmates in jail cells. Inadequate resources mean less public business takes places in public view, incidents remain unreviewed and reports are not filed. A government for the people, of the people and by the people becomes an entity far less interested in people that don’t write campaign checks or can’t muster loud rotunda demonstrations.
Fortunately, this is an election year, which gives Iowans an opportunity for change. Choose well.
Choose men and women ready to make an investment in the people of Iowa, and the vital agencies created and intended to serve them.
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