Minnesota Senate Republicans have sworn to get to the bottom of whatever the hell is happening within the Department of Human Services.
The past few weeks have seen a rash of resignations and surprise reappearances by staff, all without much explanation. That was followed by the revelation that the department overpaid $25 million to tribal governments for substance abuse treatments mostly covered under Medicaid.
To that end, Senate Republicans are holding a hearing today to hold department leaders’ feet to the fire. Also to that end, they set up an online portal about a month ago for whistleblowers, a place to safely and anonymously report government wrongdoing.
“Unfortunately, we continue to hear stories of fraud, waste, and abuse within Minnesota’s state agencies,” the webpage says. “If you’re a current or former employee of the State of Minnesota and have witnessed wasteful, fraudulent, or unethical behavior in your workplace, Senate Republicans want to hear from you.” They will be sent straight to the office of Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka.
The site also reassures visitors that their information, sensitive though it may be, will be protected.
“If a submission is shared with other members of the legislature or legislative staff, names and personally-identifying information will be redacted,” the page promises. “Your submission, as well as your identity, will NOT be disclosed to the public without your express consent.”
There is one key party that would rather you not do this, and it doesn’t work at the Department of Human Services. If you attempt to visit this portal, your web browser will practically beg you to turn back.
“Your connection is not private,” Google Chrome warns. “Attackers might be trying to steal your information from www.mnsenaterepublicans.com.”
“Warning,” Firefox says. “Potential security risk ahead.”
“You should close this site immediately,” Internet Explorer says.
The culprit is a lapsed website certificate, which is supposed to encrypt any data you enter in a given website and make it harder for hackers to steal. When this came to light on Monday, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans told Fox 9 it had expired last week and they were working to renew it.
But Democrats – including party chair Ken Martin – accused the Republicans of being cavalier with private information.
“By failing to secure their whistleblower website, and by not taking that site down while it is vulnerable to hackers, Senate Republicans are betraying the trust of Minnesotans,” he said in a statement Monday. “It was clear from the start that this whistleblower website is nothing more than a stunt designed to score political points.”
Also on Monday, Governor Tim Walz also chose nonprofit executive Jodi Harpstead as the department’s next commissioner. When she officially takes the helm in September, she’ll be the third person to do so in twice as many weeks.