Head of Powerful Illinois Agency Cutting Some Dubious Deals Print
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Tuesday, 25 May 2004 18:00
Something really stinks at CMS. The latest scandal to hit the powerful Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) revolves around a lucrative contract to manage health-care costs for tens of thousands of state workers and their families.

Health Alliance has handled that task for Downstate employees for more than 20 years, and just about everybody has been happy with its service. But all of a sudden, CMS Director Michael Rumman decided to re-bid the contract a year before it expired. What happened next has raised many a suspicious brow.

All of the bidders were initially rated on three factors. The veteran Alliance scored second on two of them and fourth on a third. Another company, United Healthcare, scored ninth on two of the factors and fifth on the third.

When all was said and done, Alliance was not among the five companies awarded a contract, but low-rated newcomer United was.

The decision set off an immediate firestorm among state workers who were worried that they would have to change doctors just so the state could save a few bucks. And those savings were hotly disputed by many, who said, with plenty of evidence, that the switch could cost the state more money.

It wasn’t until Alliance’s high ratings became known that the real trouble began. CMS Director Rumman was eventually forced to admit that the bidding was “flawed,” and he agreed to give Alliance another shot. Just to make sure, a legislative oversight committee stepped in and blocked Rumman’s attempt to switch carriers.

It later came out that one of United Healthcare’s business units is represented at the statehouse by a close friend of the governor, lobbyist John Wyma.

Rumman has lived up to his billing as an imaginative, hard-working guy, but this isn’t the first time he has been at the center of controversy.

Earlier this year, Comptroller Dan Hynes attempted to move a bill that would have stopped the state from giving contracts to companies with headquarters in notorious tax havens, such as Bermuda. Hynes argued that since the companies use the havens to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, they have an unfair advantage over Illinois companies.

It just so happened that while Hynes was pushing his bill, Rumman’s CMS was on the verge of awarding a juicy state contract to Accenture, which has its corporate headquarters in Bermuda. At the time, Accenture was represented in Springfield by David Wilhelm, a close friend of and media adviser to Governor Rod Blagojevich. (Wilhelm has since stopped lobbying.)

Rumman tried to block the Hynes bill in the House, but had to back off when reporters got wind of what he was doing. Rumman, you see, worked for Accenture before coming to CMS. Oops.

Last year, Rumman was the governor’s lead negotiator with Commonwealth Edison on a bill that ComEd was trying to muscle through the General Assembly. The measure would have allowed the mega-utility to subsidize its purchase of Downstate utility company Illinois Power. Rumman cut a deal that included an obscure little passage that allowed ComEd to artificially rig a rate hike and drive competition out of the state. The bill failed to pass when House Speaker Michael Madigan figured out what was going on.

Over a year ago, the Illinois Commerce Commission ordered its staff to slash a proposed consumer refund by natural-gas provider Peoples Energy. According to a very high-level source within the commission, the order to cut the refund by more than half originated somewhere in the governor’s office. Rumman once ran a Peoples Energy subsidiary. So far, no evidence has surfaced that can tie Rumman to the Peoples refund case, but there’s so much smoke coming out of CMS these days that one can’t help but wonder how big the fire is.

Rumman’s department was given control last year of all state-agency attorneys and auditors. This year, CMS will consolidate all of the state’s media spokespersons under Rumman’s roof. His power is growing by the day, but questions are also rising just as fast about how he is managing his office.

Last week, state Representative Bill Black and state Senators Rick Winkel and Dale Righter formally requested that Attorney General Lisa Madigan launch an investigation into Rumman’s handling of the health-care negotiations. Madigan ought to heed that call. Maybe she can kick over a few other rocks while she’s at it.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).