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Why Nikki Haley Isn’t Firing Her Welfare Czarina

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Of all the agencies in S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s cabinet, the S.C. Department of Social Services (SCDSS) – the state’s welfare agency – is by far the worst managed.

Since Haley installed Lillian Koller as its director, SCDSS has done practically nothing right.

In addition to the colossal and ongoing failure of its child support enforcement database project, SCDSS has dropped the ball on a food stamp waiver touted by Haley. Not only that its benefit call center was recently shut down (reportedly pending a federal investigation) and the success of its so-called “welfare-to-work” program is the result of cooked books … similar to touted reforms to its food stamp system.

Then there’s the issue of questionable government contracts doled out to Koller’s, um, “special friends.” And if all that weren’t bad enough, the agency has actual blood on its hands

Privately, lawmakers of both parties are urging Haley to get rid of Koller … but the governor’s office isn’t budging. And her recalcitrance is about to become a real political liability heading into the home stretch of her reelection campaign.

So … why does Haley continue to stand by Koller’s side? And why do the governor’s aides continue to dismiss the laundry list of allegations against her as nothing but “politics?” And why is Koller still viewed by Haley as a “rock star?”

Good questions … none of which are being asked by the mainstream media, which for the most part has averted its eyes from the unfolding SCDSS disaster.

We originally thought Haley’s unswerving “loyalty” to Koller was a matter of political calculation. After all, Haley has made “welfare-to-work” one of her reelection themes – and firing Koller would be a tacit admission that those gains were completely illusory (something everyone who works at the agency already knows).

It turns out the truth is much worse …

When Haley picked Koller out of Hawaii in 2011, it was a surprise choice to say the least.

“We went across this country to find the best person that we could find,” Haley bragged in introducing Koller to the local media.

The governor praised the 58-year-old effusively for her work in Hawaii – even though it was later revealed Koller faced a federal lawsuit over issues with the state’s food stamp program.

“The list of rock stars grows,” Haley boasted. “She brings a true amount of experience in a time when South Carolina needs it, and a lot of reform and conservatism at a time when South Carolina wants it.”

Really?

We’re still waiting …

In reality Haley’s choice had little to do with “finding the best person that we could find” and plenty to do with repaying a political debt – specifically the $900,000 the Republican Governors Association pumped into her 2010 campaign against S.C. Senator Vincent Sheheen.

That money came at a critical time for Haley, who nearly blew a 21-point lead over Sheheen.

“The RGA was pushing her hard,” a source familiar with Koller’s hiring tells FITS. “She was out of a job in Hawaii with a new Democratic governor coming in and they were scrambling to find her a job.”

Numerous sources tell FITS the RGA sent out emails to GOP governors – and incoming governors – pushing Koller’s resume and qualifications.

Only Haley bit …

Several Republican lawmakers have privately expressed frustration to FITS over Haley’s refusal to fire Koller – who makes $154,879 a year (not counting benefits). They have also expressed shock at the extent to which Haley’s staffers – notably chief of staff Ted Pitts and legislative aide Katherine Veldran – defend Koller.

“They have blinders on,” one GOP legislator told us. “They refuse to hear anything negative about her.”

Well guess what … they’re about to hear lots of negative things about Koller in the near future, at which point Haley will be forced to either stand up to the GOP establishment or suffer some serious political trauma.