BOSTON (SHNS) -Jeffrey Shapiro is on a mission to “recalibrate” the inspector general’s office.
About a year into his five-year term, the longtime public official has bulked up his transportation division amid a period of upheaval at the MBTA and dipped into the inspector general’s operating budget to help more cities and towns afford training programs.
It’s part of a broader effort, Shapiro said in an interview, to move the office charged with improving government efficiency out from behind the curtain and into a more proactive, engaged position.
Over the course of his first year in the office, Shapiro has rolled out public announcements about his team’s operations and the results they have achieved. He created a new director of veterans’ services position in July and tapped a chief operating officer in August. His team issued a public letter to Boston Public Schools leadership about bus contracts, weighed in about issues at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, and pushed for changes to state law governing procurement processes. Shapiro has also cast a spotlight on alleged wrongdoing his office has found: press releases highlight the indictment of a former Medfield parks and recreation director for larceny, a former MBTA buyer pleading guilty to larceny and bribery charges. and how a complaint to the inspector general’s hotline led to pandemic unemployment fraud arraignments.
Shapiro’s team is still conducting investigations and compliance checks, which he said provides a “huge deterrence factor” against those who would misuse public resources and positions. But he also wants the balance to shift more toward education and training about public sector procurement and cybersecurity, an attempt to prevent problems from erupting in the first place.
“I do feel like more than 50 percent of our effort needs to be on the education and training piece of it, and I say that because we have about between 80 and 90 people and about a $10 million budget,” Shapiro said. “When I look across state and municipal government, there are about 300,000 public servants whose work we could look at, and they spend about $120 billion. So if we don’t do this work thoughtfully and creatively and deliberatively, then I think the ability for us to have a meaningful impact is made more difficult.”
The IG’s office runs a number of training courses and seminars to help municipal officials in particular understand procurement practices, cybersecurity, and other topics.
One popular offering is a set of courses that award a “certified public procurement official” designation, which Shapiro said is a prerequisite to serving as the person in charge of procurement in many towns. Smaller communities, however, can find the price tag of about $2,200 to be a barrier.
So in June, the IG launched a new pilot program — effectively funded from the office’s operating budget — allowing a city or town to send one person through the procurement training free of charge.
Through Oct. 30, 125 people have applied and 107 have been accepted for the program, reflecting nearly a third of all municipalities in the state.
“We will look at the end of this year at the data and we’ll see if we can continue it. I’m happy with the early results,” Shapiro said.
When Shapiro started on the job last year, the IG’s team that focuses on MBTA affairs had five or six employees and a budget of $577,000, he said. Since then, he’s secured a nearly 50 percent increase in funding for that division, bumping it up to about 10 workers, including one person tasked specifically with procurement compliance at the T.
The IG’s office is “putting a lot of resources” toward transportation issues, which have been pinned in the spotlight for more than a year amid high-profile safety failures at the MBTA.
Shapiro has lent his voice to a debate after federal investigators warned last year that the Department of Public Utilities had been falling short of its responsibilities as the designated state agency in charge of T safety oversight.
In May, Shapiro told lawmakers he believes the Department of Public Utilities “is not the right agency” to hold that job. He did not, however, want lawmakers to shift the state safety oversight responsibilities to his office, and instead called for the creation of a new agency.
Top Democrats agreed: in July, the Joint Committee on Transportation favorably advanced legislation that would create a new “Office of Transit Safety,” equipped with subpoena power, to oversee MBTA safety. The bill (H 4002) is still pending in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Since Shapiro’s term began, the IG’s office has published three reports about privatization at the MBTA, focused on contracts for in-station customer service “ambassadors,” worker sick and family leave management, and police dispatch services.
Another four MBTA-related reviews are in the works, Shapiro said, covering contracts for the call center, the “money room,” warehouses, and a new fare system.
Virtually all of Shapiro’s career has been in the public sector. He worked as an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County and in several roles in the attorney general’s office, then held a range of financial and operations leadership positions in the Middlesex County DA’s office and the state comptroller’s office.
Former Gov. Charlie Baker, then-Attorney General Maura Healey, and then-Auditor Suzanne Bump picked Shapiro to serve as inspector general in September 2022, succeeding Glenn Cunha, who had completed the maximum allowable two terms of five years each.
Shapiro said the trio of officials viewed him as a “change agent,” someone who has relevant experience and expertise yet could bring “new ideas” to the role.
He’s only the fifth inspector general in Massachusetts in more than 40 years, following in the footsteps of Joseph Barresi, Robert Cerasoli, Gregory Sullivan, and Glenn Cunha.
The official history published by the IG’s office recounts a series of political scandals in the 1960s and 1970s, culminating in Sens. Joseph DiCarlo and Ronald MacKenzie soliciting bribes from the very same construction firm they were investigating in exchange for a favorable finding. They were later found guilty of extortion. DiCarlo was expelled from the Senate, while MacKenzie resigned.
An independent panel, known as the Ward Commission, concluded in 1980 that corruption was rampant across Massachusetts, and one of its many recommendations was to stand up the first state-level inspector general’s office in the country.
As Shapiro tells it, the Ward Commission saw “space that needed to be filled” between the state auditor and the attorney general.
“The view was that prior to having an inspector general, there would be blue ribbon commissions that were created when there was a scandal as a reaction to that, and they’d pull experts together and give those experts resources to investigate a specific matter,” Shapiro said. “The Ward Commission, which was created through that framework, wrote to the Legislature suggesting that there should be an agency that is always stood up and acting and looking for fraud, waste and abuse.”
Today, the inspector general often doesn’t get as much attention as the auditor or attorney general, both of whom are constitutional officers selected by voters. In fact, Shapiro said one of the most common questions he receives is what exactly differentiates his role from the auditor’s.
He likes to answer with a hypothetical: say someone provides a tip that an agency’s payroll is problematic. The auditor’s office, Shapiro said, could audit the payroll over a certain period of time to look for discrepancies or examine whether the agency has proper safeguards in place.
The inspector general, by comparison, could almost immediately pull records, begin interviewing employees, and ask about a specific worker about whom the office got a tip, a narrower and more nimble investigatory response.
“Presumably, the allegation might be that it’s a no-show job or they’re skimming time. We can look at that, we can look at the records, we can get all kinds of other information,” Shapiro said. “It may broaden as we do that to go across an agency, or it may not — it may be one individual. The flexibility of what we can do is really what fills that space because we can do episodic [investigations] and we can also do it in real-time.”
Shapiro isn’t taking a side in the ongoing fight between Auditor Diana DiZoglio and House and Senate Democrats over whether her office has the authority to audit the Legislature. He said the decision will likely fall to voters if DiZoglio succeeds at putting a question on the 2024 ballot.
“Right now, it’s a petition, and they’re in a signature-gathering [effort],” said. “I think the public will decide, or the voters potentially if they get a question before them. I feel like at this point, that’s where the majority decision rests.”