hired help

Another inquiry finds that DOE's IBM consultants stole from city

The Department of Education is under pressure to tighten its supervision of outside workers after another investigation found that consultants from IBM stole from the city while assigned to a technology project at the department.

Three IBM contractors working in one part of the department’s instructional technology division conducted personal business from the office, illicitly worked from home, and even stole and sold department equipment on eBay, according to a report released today by Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon.

Department officials who were supposed to be monitoring the contractors did not do their job, investigators concluded.

“The Chancellor must insist upon direct supervision of outside consultants by DOE employees,” Condon writes in the report. “Allowing outside consultants to usurp the supervisory role of DOE employees is an open invitation to defraud the DOE.”

In a twist, Condon’s report notes that two of the department supervisors who “turned a blind eye” to the fraud, Joseph Iacoviello and Stephen Vigilante, had previously uncovered and reported fraud by a different IBM contractor. That contractor, Willard Lanham, was sentenced this fall to three years in prison for stealing nearly $2 million from the city.

The department stopped working with the contractors named in today’s report nearly a year ago, and one department employee retired in July after being reprimanded for inadequately supervising the outside workers, officials said, and an internal investigation cleared Iacoviello and Vigilante of wrongdoing. Plus, the department took other measures to guard against improprieties by consultants, including reorganizing the division where the contractors were working.

“After complaints were made in Spring 2011, the Department of Education took quick proactive measures to increase internal controls and oversight and removed those involved,” spokeswoman Erin Hughes said in a statement.

The latest finding is new ammunition for critics of the department’s spending on outside contractors, which Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said last year had ballooned by more than 300 percent since 2004. At the time, Stringer, who is running for comptroller, urged an immediate freeze on new education department contracts after a string of what he called “shameful contractor scandals.”

The complete report released today by Condon’s office is below.

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

We’ve reached out for reaction from DeVos’s team and will update when we hear back.

home sweet home

‘Finally! Something useful’ or a dangerous mistake? Detroiters respond to city’s housing deal for teachers

PHOTO: Detroit Land Bank Authority
This home on Harvard Road was up for auction the week after Detroit announced a half-off-on-city-owned housing deal for teachers.

Friday’s announcement that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter, or parochial schools — will get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority stirred a lot of discussion.

Some of our commenters on Facebook had high hopes for the deal:

But one commenter wondered if it’s the city of Detroit that’s actually getting the best deal, not the employees — or other people seeking to buy homes in the city:

And others argued that people who already live in Detroit won’t benefit from this deal:

Still, some readers appear to be ready to move — and have even picked homes to bid on (though not necessarily from the Land Bank Authority)!