Earlier this year the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources awarded a contract with an estimated value of $3.5 million to the highest of four bidders. Not long afterward, three high-ranking DHHR officials who questioned the procedure were placed on paid leave.
There they remain, though reportedly some or all of them are considering lawsuits against the state.
Just what is going on here? DHHR acting Secretary Rocco Fucillo won't say. Asked about the three suspended officials, he will comment only that a personnel matter is involved. Reportedly, the agency is conducting an investigation, though even its scope and subject are not known with certainty.
Conduct such as that being engaged in by the DHHR strongly suggests malfeasance, perhaps outright criminal activity, is being investigated. None of the three suspended officials has been accused of anything improper - at least not openly - however. Yet the agency's action in placing them on leave implies concern about their actions or, perhaps, the potential for future activities.
It is not uncommon when investigations of criminal activity are being conducted for a veil of secrecy to be drawn over the proceedings. Not infrequently, the authorities refuse to even confirm improper activity has occurred until it has been probed thoroughly and charges either have been filed or determined not to be desirable.
All that said, the DHHR situation is not acceptable, especially because the three suspended officials had raised questions about the process of awarding a lucrative contract to the most expensive company. It is natural to wonder whether the agency was retaliating by suspending them.
Taxpayers who will be paying for the $3.5 million marketing contract involved and who continue to pay the salaries of three top DHHR officials are entitled to an explanation. They have paid for the privilege of knowing more about what is going on - and hearing some explanation soon. The extent of that information may have to be limited if, indeed, a criminal investigation is under way, but as matters stand, not even that has been revealed. The situation is unacceptable and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin should not allow it to continue.