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Plagiarism Allegations Haunt Controversial Welfare Report

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on May 30, 2014 10:10:00 AM

In Maine, Republican Governor Paul LePage has announced that he is seeking to withhold more than $400,000 owed to the Alexander Group, a consulting firm that was promised $925,000 to draft an evaluation of the Maine welfare system.

The report was controversial even before work on it was started. Democrats of the state questioned the governor’s choice of awarding the contract to the company without bids and giving it to a firm with a history of promoting conservative welfare policies.


The report continued to draw fire as missed deadlines delayed the report and alleged miscalculations furthered allegations of partisanship.

However, in more recent days the report, which was released in January, has come under fire for a new reason, plagiarism.

The allegations against the Alexander Group and the report’s author, Gary Alexander, are fairly straightforward. The report is accused of lifting one of its key recommendations along with large blocks of text from a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report.

Though Alexander’s report does cite the CBPP report, it uses large blocks of text without citation and doesn’t indicate that the text is a quote. Other portions contained copied text, including from another report by the CBPP.

The allegations forced Governor LePage, who had previously stood by the work of the Alexander Group, to immediately halt any further payments to the group for the report. He is also said to be exploring ways to recoup the $500,000 that has already been paid to the group, though legal experts caution the nature of the contract may make that difficult.

Governor LePage is said to be considering cancelling the entire contract with The Alexander Group, which has already submitted four of the five studies the state hired it to. Such a termination would make the reports meaningless for policymaking.

No matter how the story ends, it’s an interesting lesson for all sides as the controversy is one that could have been easily avoided.

The Alexander Group should have realized that their report would be under higher-than-normal scrutiny and worked not only to ensure that it was beyond reproach in terms of its research, but also its ethics. If the author had been diligent about citing passages or checking his work for incorrectly cited content, the plagiarized passages would never have left the company.

Likewise, if the governor’s office had checked the document for plagiarism upon arrival, the passages would have likely been discovered and could have been sent back to the consultant for additional work. Also, if they had worked clear anti-plagiarism clauses into their contract, they could have avoided the legal limbo they are in on the $500,000 already paid.

In short, this entire near-$1 million fiasco could have been easily avoided by those involved thinking about plagiarism and involving it in the discussion and drafting of the report. However, since they didn’t, they are all now caught up in a much different, and messier, conversation after the fact.

On that front, it is a valuable lesson to anyone drafting or requesting a document for hire, the sooner you discuss and think about plagiarism in the process, the less likely you’ll have to after it is published.

The opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of iThenticate.