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AP reporting prompts bill forcing Nevada agencies to reveal federal reviews

A car sits near a Community Health Nursing clinic – the only family planning services available for uninsured residents within 100 miles – in Tonopah, Nev., May 21, 2017. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval recently signed a bill that will backfill hundreds of thousands of federal grant dollars to pay nurses and provide birth control that the state lost after a scathing report described state-run reproductive health clinics in disarray. (AP Photo/Alison Noon)

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Statehouse reporters know to follow the money, that to hold government accountable we need to know where taxpayer money goes and how it is used. Nevada temporary legislative reporter Alison Noon did just that recently and helped bring about a promised change in policy that will make the workings of the state capital more transparent.

Noon first began reporting a story that rural health clinics offering family planning services to low-income women had slashed services and were turning women away for lack of funding after federal grant money dried up. Without additional funding the entire program and the well-being of many women in rural parts of Nevada were at stake.

Top state officials, including the governor – unaware of the federal report – weren’t happy with Noon’s initial story and pushed back.

In the course of her reporting,Noon learned the program’s federal funding worth $1.2 million over the past two years had been cut after a scathing review that showed widespread mismanagement and poor medical practices at the rural clinics. Curiously,the program’s administrator did not detail the program’s many problems when she sought additional state funds during the legislative session. The highly critical federal report went unmentioned.

Noon set out to learn why. She found Nevada did not require state administrators to share the results of such federal reviews with anyone – not the governor,not department heads, not state auditors. High-ranking state employees were allowed the discretion of secrecy. Unflattering U.S. reports could be tucked away safely in a bottom drawer and ignored.

Likewise,quarterly reports to department heads carried no requirement to share the results of federal reviews. Top level state officials, including the governor – unaware of the contents of the federal report – weren’t happy with Noon’s initial story and pushed back. But after answering hard questions and some self-examination they acknowledged there was a problem with the rural health clinics and with the policy that allowed for those problems not to be shared.

The governor and his staff later reached out to Noon and informed her exclusively that he would require disclosure of all federal reviews.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and his staff later reached out to Noon and informed her exclusively that he was putting an end to the lack of transparency and would require disclosure of all federal reviews, a change that could lead to the unveiling of hundreds of U.S. reviews done to maintain federal funding.

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Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval attends a bill signing in North Las Vegas, Nev., June 15, 2017. – AP PHOTO / JOHN LOCHER

Under the new rule that the governor,secretary of state and attorney general are expected to officially approve this month, agencies must share with auditors all federal reviews showing that fixes need to be made. And quarterly reports in the Health Department now must include details of federal site inspections and grant reviews. Auditors and other officials then will know to follow up on the problems.

“Understanding the situation now,based on (the AP) story,we have changed the process,” said a spokeswoman for the director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

For her unmatched APNewsBreak, Noon wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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