An engineering firm targeted in federal investigations of potential bid-rigging in New York State enjoyed an especially cozy relationship with one of the state officials who evaluated some Buffalo Billion developer bids, LittleSis has learned.
The firm, CHA (formerly known as Clough Harbour & Associates), was in the news last month because it paid consulting fees to a top aide to Governor Cuomo, Joe Percoco, and also received contracts through the Buffalo Billion, Cuomo’s signature economic initiative in western New York. Additionally, CHA has donated over $200,000 to Cuomo and his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul.
What hasn’t been reported: CHA also has strong ties to an official at SUNY Polytechnic who was directly engaged in evaluating Buffalo Billion developer proposals.
The official, Thomas O’Brien, joined SUNY Poly in 2013 after a 30-year career at CHA, most recently as a senior vice president and group manager. He is also tied to the company through his family: his daughter, a college student, indicates that she is an intern at CHA on her social media accounts.
Two weeks ago I used LittleSis to look into the NYS Education Department’s shadow government, the Regents Research Fund. The Fund’s interlocks show a clear pattern among the fellows: 13 (out of seventeen researched) had worked at Teach for America, New Leaders, College Board or the NYC Department of Education before joining the Fund. Some of those organizations have ties to the same foundations that support the Fund.
Back in August we set up a Shadow Gov Working Group on LittleSis, inspired by Obama’s Open Government Working Group established in 2009 and his administration’s hot pursuit of Edward Snowden, who worked for NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. The research group investigates corporations that tend to profit from the privatization of government, first focusing on Booz Allen. Gin’s analysis of a $6 billion corporation that relies on government for 99% of its revenue but doesn’t hire lobbyists is definitely worth a read.
The Albany Times-Unionreported last week on the New York State Education Department’s “shadow government:” a think tank advising the Board of Regents and Commissioner John B. King on educational policy, but funded entirely by private foundations.
Unlike Booz Allen, the Regents Research Fund is a nonprofit organization that doesn’t receive taxpayer funding. Its staff (called “fellows”) are meant as supplemental advisors to the Education Department’s public officials, not replacing any public sector positions. Critics say the fellows may be more concerned with the education reform agenda of their sponsors than what’s best for New York schools, and not subject to public accountability. In 2011, for example, the Board of Regents adopted the fellows’ recommendation about the role of test scores in teacher evaluations over those of a task force made up by 63 educators from around the state.
One of the fellows told the Times-Union: “There aren’t a whole lot of us out there with this training and experience.” I wondered what she meant. There are more than 200,000 teachers, not to mention principals and other administrators, in New York State alone. What kind of experience was she referring to? Who are these extraordinary fellows?