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E-mailed tip set off probe of spending on software

July 8, 2001 

COLUMBUS - His pseudonym was "Secret Squirrel," a cartoon rodent with a touch of James Bond.

In a pair of anonymous e-mail messages to the state watchdog in the spring of 2000, the Squirrel dropped this nut: Ohio's former human-services director, Arnold Tompkins, had gone to work for the consulting giant Accenture after steering millions of dollars in contracts to the firm. Even though Ohio already had spent nearly $40 million on an Internet job bank designed by Accenture that didn't conform to state technology standards, the writer added, Tompkins was lobbying for Accenture "with no end in the cost in sight."

Combining the kernels of information provided by the Squirrel with other tips and leads from Plain Dealer stories, Inspector General Tom Charles late last month accused Tompkins of allowing Accenture to literally write its own contracts.

Tompkins "feathered his own nest" by accepting employment from Accenture and another consultant after ramming tens of millions of dollars in unbid welfare-reform contracts through the state's compliant Controlling Board, alleged a June 29 report issued by Charles. While doing so, the report said, Tompkins, 50, hired an old friend named Donna Givens and let her work simultaneously for Accenture and the state on the same contract.

Even more surprising, however, were the responses of top-level officials at the Department of Job & Family Services when questioned about Tompkins' actions. Time after time, senior managers meekly acceded to Tompkins' demands, interviews show.

Asked by investigators how he became the contract manager for Ohio Works, Accenture's problem-plagued job-matching program, Raivo Murnieks said he was "picked by default."

"It was not appropriate for me to handle the contract," he said. "I didn't have the technical background to understand the full picture."

When Accenture submitted bills, ranging from $1.5 million to $2 million a month, Murnieks said, "I mostly had to take their word for the hours submitted."

The interviews also show that Tompkins bypassed his computer services division, transferring "total control" of Ohio Works to Accenture. When Greg Jackson, Ohio's chief information technology officer, last year finally asked for copies of the firm's contracts, he was astonished to see that Accenture's hourly billing rate topped out at $450.

"Mr. Jackson said . . . the state should contract a company, not the company contracting the state," investigators wrote in a summary of their May 16 interview. "He said he is not surprised the contract was so favorable to the company, since they wrote it."

One employee described an Accenture manager's role in writing the system specifications and delivery deadlines into the firm's contract.

"I worked with Don Ribar from Andersen to write the deliverables," Judy Rauch, a department administrative assistant, said in a sworn statement to investigators. "I know that's probably not the right thing to do, but it was easier for the vendor to write the deliverables."

A loud denial

Accenture, hoping to raise $1.72 billion via a much-anticipated initial public stock offering later this month, has loudly denounced the inspector general's findings.

Neither Givens nor the firm has done anything wrong, company spokesmen have said. Tompkins was aware of Givens' dual roles, they added, "and even encouraged it."

The firm also has argued, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that Ohio Works is fully functional and the envy of the country. The state has been deluged with complaints that the $60 million system is difficult to navigate, doesn't adequately generate reports required by the U.S. Department of Labor and is inferior to the $17 million system it replaced.

"We believe we did not do anything wrong, and we stand by the work that we did," said John Hrusovsky, an Accenture partner. In addition to issuing a 60-page self-analysis that cleared the firm, Accenture announced that it had hired Robert M. Duncan, a respected former federal judge in Columbus, to review company policies "on retaining or hiring individuals who previously served in government," Hrusovsky said.

Tompkins, through his lawyer, also has denied wrongdoing.

"Arnold made some judgments that I'm sure he'd like to have made over; that's the bottom line if I'm going to be halfway honest about this," said his lawyer, Larry James. "I think Arnold tried to do what he thought was the best for the taxpayers of Ohio, but I know some people will have trouble believing that."

Asked whether he expected Tompkins to be indicted, James said: "You've got $64 million-plus that was spent and people are having a difficult time explaining to the public why all this money was spent and they don't have a workable product. The easiest thing to do with that scenario is kill them all and let God sort it out. And if that's the mindset we're dealing with, then they're going to be indicted.

"Even if Arnold is 100 percent clean, we have a difficult position to defend," he added. "That's just the way it is."

The visionary

When Tompkins resigned in 1998, he was hailed as a "visionary" who had helped Ohio move from a statewide system of welfare entitlement to a decentralized model in which local agencies helped welfare recipients find jobs and become self-sufficient.

With the assistance of more than 150 consultants whom Accenture rotated into Ohio, Tompkins saw nearly 400,000 of the 740,000 people who were collecting welfare drop off the rolls.

Ohio's welfare-reform effort was driven by the oft-repeated phrase, "A safety net, not a hammock." For Ohioans who were willing to work, it meant that the government's "net" would catch them if they fell. But the state would no longer allow people to "put their feet up" and simply collect benefits.

While pursuing that lofty goal, however, Tompkins appears to have been searching for his own safety net.

He revealed as much in an interview last year with Black Enterprise magazine, which reported that Tompkins "began mapping out plans for his career change well in advance of establishing his company in 1998."

"I'd always wanted to do private consulting on my own but was a little intimidated by not having the security a job provided," he told the magazine.

Tompkins and Accenture officials said they did not discuss working together before Tompkins' resignation. Nevertheless, records show that rumors were rampant in the months before Tompkins' departure that he would end up on Accenture's payroll.

In fact, Tompkins did better than that, accepting $20,000 from American Management Systems, an Accenture competitor, six weeks after resigning his state position. The seed money was intended to help establish Tompkins & Sensky Ltd., a consulting business Tompkins began with Jacqueline Romer-Sensky, who had just resigned as Gov. George Voinovich's top human-services aide.

James, Tompkins' lawyer, dismissed the payment as "chump change," saying, "That doesn't even buy you drapes."

Records show that Tompkins was soon leaning on his interim successor, Wayne Sholes, urging him to continue pushing Ohio Works. And after Romer-Sensky abruptly broke up the partnership in March 1999 to succeed Tompkins as human services director, Tompkins began "pushing" her to act on Accenture's behalf, she told investigators.

James contends those contacts were innocent and that Tompkins never violated Ohio's "revolving door" law, which prevents public officials from representing clients for one year after leaving office in matters in which they formerly participated.

Tompkins' bigger problem, James said, pertains to Givens' work for Accenture and the state.

"It's incestuous, and it's problematic," he said. "You can't serve two masters; that's a rule of thumb."

Otherwise, James said, much of the criticism of Tompkins is self-serving "Monday-morning quarterbacking."

"Arnold is a hard-working and decent guy who didn't have a blemish on his record until this," he said. "Did this guy just get greedy overnight and try to line his pockets? I don't think so."

By TED WENDLING,Copyright © 2001

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