POLL QUESTION

Author of report from which Alexander Group lifted text: ‘It’s literally two pages of text’

Posted May 21, 2014, at 1:02 p.m.
Last modified May 21, 2014, at 6:48 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A portion of a report by the Alexander Group, which Gov. Paul LePage’s administration commissioned as part of its welfare reform efforts, was copied from work done by a liberal Washington, D.C., think tank.

That revelation caused the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday to request resubmission of portions of the report while claiming the media and Democrats were trying to politicize the issue, which was dubbed “LePlagiarism” on social media.

The Alexander Group and the Department of Health and Human Services told the Bangor Daily News in written statements Wednesday afternoon that attribution errors were made in the report.

The author of a report on the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which the Bangor Daily News reported in an editorial Wednesday was plagiarized by the Alexander Group, said she has never seen the organization’s work copied so liberally.

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LaDonna Pavetti, vice president for the family income support division of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said Wednesday morning that in her experience, what the Alexander Group did went far beyond normal or acceptable. The BDN found that pages of the Alexander report appeared nearly verbatim from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ earlier study.

“I have never seen this,” said Pavetti. “It’s literally two pages of text [that were copied]. It’s not a small piece of text.”

Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Alexander Group acknowledged Wednesday that errors were made. DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said in an email response to questions from the BDN that the department is asking the Alexander Group to resubmit portions of the report.

“We acknowledge that there were citation errors made by our vendor of the ‘Baseline Analysis of Maine’s Welfare Programs,’” said Mayhew. “The Alexander Group has acknowledged those errors. The department has directed the Alexander Group to make the necessary corrections and resubmit the report. We will evaluate them in the context of their overall performance, as we do with all department vendors.”

The written statement said the department is “concerned that the media and Democrats have chosen to politicize punctuation over policy, instead of evaluating these critical reform recommendations on their merits.”

DHHS provided a written statement from the Alexander Group in which the firm acknowledged that the report “clearly falls short of The Alexander Group’s standards — and past record — of excellent performance and value.”

“Even though other organizations’ reports were acknowledged as a source, usage of their material was not fully attributed in the body of the report as a result of deficiencies in our review processes, specifically a failure to ensure intended footnotes were included,” reads the statement. “We regret the error and offer our sincere apologies. Such usage is never acceptable, and appropriate checks are being put in place to ensure that this unfortunate outcome is never repeated.”

The Alexander Group said it is in discussions with DHHS on “concrete steps” to ensure that the problem isn’t repeated. In an email to the BDN, Gary Alexander said Wednesday evening that his firm has apologized to the LePage administration.

“We have also attempted to contact those organizations where we did not provide the proper footnoting to apologize to them directly and to let them know it was not intentional,” wrote Alexander, who heads the consulting group.

At issue is the Alexander Group’s study of Maine’s welfare and social services programs. The study was commissioned through a no-bid $925,000 contract authorized by LePage and the Department of Health and Human Services in September 2013. The report has been the source of controversy from the day in November when the LePage administration announced it had awarded the contract without first collecting bids for the work.

The BDN found that as many as two running pages in the Alexander Group’s report — the most recent sections of which were released Thursday — were nearly identical to passages in a 2011 report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for Law and Social Policy.

The plagiarism allegation follows complaints earlier this year that the Alexander Group made a $575 million mathematical error in its assessment of costs to the state if Maine expanded Medicaid eligibility as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act. The Alexander Group has disputed that it made an error.

Pavetti said the most egregious plagiarism of the center’s report by the Alexander Group was in the area of subsidized employment recommendations.

“It’s a policy we support, and we’re glad they see it as a good idea,” said Pavetti. “This is just different than the way our work is generally used.”

Pavetti said her organization is not planning on responding to the apparent plagiarism.

“We don’t have any intentions of doing anything with this,” she said.

Gary Alexander formerly led state welfare programs in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Democrats in Maine have criticized him regularly for basing policy on conservative ideology. They also have criticized contracting with him as a waste of taxpayer money. A bill to cancel the contract for the Alexander Group study passed in the Legislature with primarily Democratic support, but LePage vetoed it and that veto was sustained.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Democrat Mike Michaud’s gubernatorial campaign urged supporters to sign a petition demanding that the Alexander Group return payments it has received for the report. House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, also called on the Alexander Group to refund more than $500,00 the state has paid for the study and for DHHS to cancel the remaining portion of the contract.

In April, DHHS signed a contract amendment with the Alexander Group giving them until July 15 to turn in the remaining portions of the study.

Eves reiterated that about $300,000 of the money used to pay Alexander is coming from federal grants to the state meant to help pay for the administration of Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families programs. The remainder of the report is being financed with money from the state’s general fund, according to the DHHS contract with the Alexander Group.

“This latest with the plagiarism piece — it does just get worse and worse,” Eves said of the report. “And the fact that part of the funding came out of programs meant to help struggling families and hungry children is just disgraceful and egregious.”

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