A Watchdog's Life
Gary VanLandingham's agency analyzes the efficiency of state programs. Sometimes its findings don't sit will with state leaders.
“We’re not trying to make anybody look good or bad,” says OPPAGA Director Gary VanLandingham. [Photo: Ray Stanyard]
As director of the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, Gary VanLandingham says his job is to “speak truth to power” — and he has the scars to show for it.
Gary VanLandingham, 51
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, University of Florida; master’s degree and doctorate in public policy and program evaluation, Florida State University
Family: He and his wife, Cindy, live in Tallahassee; two sons
Recent reading: David McCullough’s “Truman,” Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” Ben Bova’s “The Green Trap,” and David Fromkin’s “A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East”
Working at OPPAGA: “It’s sort of a gifted class for grown-ups. It’s full of really smart people who really enjoy what they do.”
OPPAGA’s findings don’t always sit well with those whose programs go under its microscope. In 2002, after the Legislature mandated that the agency review the operations of local school boards every five years, OPPAGA issued a report on the Okaloosa County School Board that included some critical findings. Among other suggestions, OPPAGA said the district could save $4.9 million over five years by closing an underutilized school, delaying the purchase of buses and moving its tech-support program in-house.
The report meant the district was ineligible to receive the State Board of Education’s Seal of Best Financial Management, and board members weren’t happy. The board rejected OPPAGA’s findings and called the non-binding report a “serious disappointment to parents, teachers and taxpayers and a regrettable waste of taxpayers’ money.”
OPPAGA raised hackles again in 2004 when it concluded that a Medicaid “disease management” program the state had launched in 1997 had failed both to achieve projected cost savings and to improve health outcomes. Under the program, drug manufacturers provided disease management services for state Medicaid recipients with chronic conditions in exchange for an exemption from state-mandated prescription drug discounts. OPPAGA found that the program had only saved the state about $13.4 million — far less than the $108.4 million legislators had originally projected.
Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversaw the program, quibbled with OPPAGA’s methodology, as did executives from Pfizer, one of the vendors providing the services. But lawmakers pulled the plug on the project and passed a bill that prohibits programs like the disease management service from being substituted for supplemental cash rebates.