The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has returned nearly $400,000 to the federal government for failing to follow federal contracting rules during the LePage administration.

The returned funds were related to improperly administering a federal grant for assistance to crime victims.

Maine repaid the $398,055 in February because the state agency incorrectly granted a “sole-source” contract to a consultant for a crime victims program, when the contract was required by federal rules to be put up for bid.

The no-bid contract was discovered after the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General audited $28 million in federal Crime Victims Fund grants from 2014-17 that were awarded to Maine DHHS, according to an inspector general report released Thursday. It wasn’t clear what year the contract was awarded, but it would have been sometime between 2014 and 2017.

Maine DHHS did not provide, when asked by the Press Herald, the name of the consulting firm. The Office of Inspector General refused to name the consulting firm when asked.

“We can’t provide that information,” said Stephanie Logan, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Justice.

All consulting contracts over $150,000 must be bid out or receive federal approval for one to be a no-bid contract, according to federal rules.

“(Maine) DHHS officials stated that they were unaware of the need to obtain prior written approval of the contract,” according to the inspector general’s report.

The Crime Victims Fund supports victims through U.S. Department of Justice programs operated by state and local governments. The programs include “crisis intervention, assistance in filing restraining orders, counseling in crises arising from the occurrence of crime, and emergency shelter – to victims of crime.” Some of the grant money is specifically geared toward helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The Office of Inspector General also found that Maine DHHS “lacked a funding allocation and planning strategy; lacked certain written procedures and performance reporting requirements; inaccurately reported performance statistics; was not compliant with cash management requirements” and failed to maintain some required documentation.

In an August 2019 letter to federal officials from Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, Maine DHHS agreed with all 15 recommendations to improve the state’s handling of federal contracts.

Jackie Farwell, Maine DHHS spokeswoman, said in a statement to the Press Herald that “the Department of Health and Human Services takes seriously the issues cited in the audit and is actively working to remedy these findings that date to the previous administration.”


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