How much is the budget for the NYS Department of Health? That doesn’t seem like such a hard question, does it? The answer should be pretty easily available, shouldn’t it? I mean, the citizens are being constantly berated about the high cost of medical care, so we should easily be able to find out just how high it is, shouldn’t we?
Believe that and New York’s got a really big bridge to sell you.
I’ve had certain dealings with the head money guy at the NYS Dept. of Health (DOH) and I’ve been curious about just how much money he gets to play with when he goes to work, so one day I asked Ask.com “How much is the budget for the NYS Dept. of Health?” Ask.com referred me to items which tell local municipalities how to submit their budgets to DOH when they are asking for funding.
That’s not what I wanted so I went to the NYS DOH website and noodled around for a while. Didn’t find anything close to an answer, so I did what I always do when I can’t find answers: I called 435-1900. That’s the telephone number for the Reference Department of the Onondaga County Public Library. I asked my question and a nice lady said, “Oh, that’s going to be a hard one.” Why? According to the NYS website, Governor Cuomo has an “Ongoing Initiative to Increase Openness and Transparency in Government.” Wouldn’t you think that would go as far as the budget?
Well, the reference lady noodles around the New York State website for a while, then tells me she can’t find the DOH budget. So I ask for, and am given, the phone numbers for the press office, the fiscal administrator, and—just to cover all the angles—the commissioner. I start with the number for the fiscal administrator and the girlie who answers the phone says “Oasis.” Huh? What department are you, I ask, and she answers “Alcohol and Drug Abuse.” Actually, I learn later that she did not say “oasis”; she said “Oasas”—Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.
“Sorry,” I say, and move on the to the public relations office, where the girlie answers the phone and also identifies her office as alcoholism. Okay, so I try the commissioner’s office. It’s alcoholism again, but the girl who answers the phone this time is the one and only person in the entire government system who actually is helpful. She gives me the correct phone number for the DOH commissioner.
The Onondaga County Public Library’s reference lady wasn’t on the DOH page when she gave me phone numbers; she was on the Office of Alcoholism page, and her screw-up has cost me three phone calls and ten minutes of my life. Oh, well. So I call the DOH commissioner’s office and do my standard thing: “Good morning. I’m a citizen and I would like to know how much the annual budget is for the NYS Dept. of Health.”
And the girlie—this one’s name is Tracey—tells me to call Bob Reed’s office. I ask for the number “in case we get cut off” and she gets snippy, then tells me the number and transfers me. This time I am told that I have to FOIL the request, that is, file a request under the Freedom of Information Law. WTF??? The government of the people, by the people and for the people sure as hell doesn’t have to file a FOIL when they demand my money in the form of taxes, so why do I have to file a FOIL to find out how they’ve spent it? And isn’t this really public information? Doesn’t the NYS Legislature sit around and talk about it out loud before they vote on the state budget? They do vote on the budget, don’t they?
So the girlie in Bob Reed’s office (Robert Reed was the assistant director of the Bureau of STD Control and is now the deputy commissioner for administration at DOH—there’s a pay hike for you) tells me I have to call the counsel’s office, and gives me the number.
In the counsel’s office, the girlie I get is Sarah. I ask her my question about the DOH budget. She says, “We don’t have that information . . . why are you calling me?” Because your girlfriend over at Bob’s office told me I had to, that’s why. I am following the bouncing government ball in search of information. Well, Sarah puts me on hold a couple times, then transfers me to Valerie in the Records Access Office.
All the while that I am following the bouncing government ball, I am picturing “budget” in my mind. A budget lists sources and amounts of income and outgo. My budget—which can be written on a standard Post-It—consists of one income from the Social Security Administration, and a couple outgoes for rent, electricity and food. Shouldn’t the NYS Dept. of Health have a simple page posted on their website that lists the top income and sources, like “The taxpayer: 40 bazillion dollars” and “The taxpayer’s, via the federal government: Another 40 bazillion dollars?” Then they should run a short list of their biggest sources of outgo and how much out goes to those sources: “Dept. of Health, 10 bazillion; Dept. of Transportation: 4 bazillion; Office of Mental Health: 6.2 bazillion.”
Shouldn’t there be a public short list of the New York State budget? Governor Cuomo, why aren’t you making it easy for the people to know where their money’s going? (To be continued)