The creativity of state bureaucrats continues to shock and amaze.
Another day, another scandal in Illinois.
But this is one most people have not heard much about because it's not centered in Chicago or Springfield, and there are no sleazy politicians selling out the public interest.
This is a story of bureaucrats inventing ways not to do their jobs under the most serious of circumstances. It's also a cautionary tale about placing too much trust and responsibility in government bureaucracy.
Three weeks ago, the Belleville News-Democrat, after conducting a lengthy investigation, reported that the Office of Inspector General in the Department of Human Services had failed to investigate the deaths of 53 disabled adults after receiving reports that the adults in question were the subject of neglect or abuse.
Why didn't the state investigate? The explanation provides a perfect insight into a bureaucratic mind-set that is as foolish as it is frightening.
Officials from the inspector general's office reached the preposterous conclusion that because the individuals in question died, they were "ineligible for services." In other words, they washed their hands of responsibility to look into alleged abuse/neglect cases once the individuals died, possibly as a result of abuse and neglect.
The good news is that change is coming to this dysfunctional public office.
Inspector General William Davis is being allowed to resign as of Jan. 1. New rules have been adopted to make certain that this kind of bureaucratic malpractice is not repeated. The state's public-relations machine is in high gear as it seeks to reassure the public that, as Gov. Pat Quinn said in a written statement, "every life deserves respect and dignity."
Even the bureaucrats in the human services department are acting as if they got religion. When The News-Democrat was demanding answers to tough questions, bureaucrats reacted in a hostile fashion. Rather than answer in an honest manner, department spokesman Januari Smith-Trader deflected inquiries by suggesting reporters were in violation of state law for being in possession of patients' medical records.
After the full import of the story hit, state officials announced that the Office of Inspector General had initiated a "review and re-evaluation of its practices, policies and role under state law."
Later, it announced a series of steps, including mandatory investigation by the inspector general, the coroner's office or law enforcement, to ensure these cases are handled in an appropriate manner.
"We recognized the deficiencies within the program and are committed to improving it," said Michelle Saddler, director of the human services department.
It's great that the department's top officials decided that they're going to do their jobs.
But the real question is how could a supposedly reputable state office possessing enormous authority have acted so irresponsibly for so long?
Did no one in the department question the idea that if an abused person died in the course of an investigation, the investigation should automatically end? This interpretation of the state's legal duty is absurd on its face. Yet it took a newspaper investigation and resultant public outrage to persuade state officials to acknowledge the obvious.
It's a different kind of scandal, but a scandal nonetheless.