AUGUSTA — Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, asked State Auditor Neria Douglass a simple question Tuesday: Who’s responsible for making sure that state agencies comply with audit findings?

The question came during an Appropriations Committee discussion of recurring audit findings in the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Transportation. The committee reviewed a few areas of concern in each department – many have been identified for at least four years – and talked about ways to encourage state agencies to come into compliance faster.

“It seems like an accountability issue,” Katz said. “You’ve done your job, reported these things. It seems to get lost until you report it again.”

Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, the committee’s Senate chair, said the office of the state auditor was created by the Legislature, but it audits executive branch agencies. He said it’s up to the Legislature to follow up to make sure changes are made.

Douglass described inadequate monitoring for some federal special-education funding and concerns that federal cash management procedures have not been followed. Those audit findings have been identified in state audits each year since 2007, she said.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen told the committee that a new system established in July should address most of the concerns. He disagreed with the audit findings in one instance and said he would work with state and federal authorities to clear up the issue.

“The department disagrees with the auditor about what is the degree of oversight that the Maine department has to have,” he said.

The audit found that the Department of Health and Human Services did not “consistently document that all clients are eligible to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.” In the most recent audit, the problem was downgraded because documentation has improved since the problem was first identified in 2007.

Other problems in the DHHS included overpaying benefits to some people, drawing down federal money sooner than necessary, and not submitting accurate expenditure reports for foster care and adoption assistance programs.

In the Department of Labor, some expenditures were made without adequate documents.

And the Department of Transportation has not followed the Davis-Bacon Act dating back to 2007, Douglass said. The act requires contractors and subcontractors who work on federally funded highway and bridge projects to pay employees prevailing wages and benefits. The state must review payroll and interview workers to make sure the federal act is being followed.

The state did not routinely review payroll or do interviews in 2007, 2008 or 2009, but did make changes in fiscal year 2010 to attempt to meet the requirements, the audit showed. Because of the efforts to improve, the finding was most recently downgraded, she said.

Rep. Kathleen Chase, R-Wells, said it would be helpful for legislators if the findings were ranked, so they would know which ones deserve extra attention.

Douglass said all of the items discussed Tuesday deserve extra attention.

“All of these are reported to the federal government,” she said. “All have the potential for negative consequences.”
 
MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:
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