Saturday, September 06, 2008

Health agency audit reveals many woes

AUSTIN — Texas health and human services agencies continued to pay 1,229 terminated employees a total of $738,192 over the past two years, according to a state audit released Wednesday.

The overpayments were among several deficiencies found in work force practices at the Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees four state agencies in a system that employs 50,000 workers with a payroll of $2.2 billion.

Auditors also complained of inadequately trained supervisors, lengthy paid emergency leaves for employees facing criminal charges and inconsistent efforts to verify workers' citizenship status.
"The Health and Human Services Commission should improve its compliance with laws, policies and procedures when carrying out human resources functions," the audit said.

The audit also said the agencies are in minimal compliance with procedures for maintaining employee records, because some confidential information such as medical documentation should have been maintained separately. However, the agencies are substantially following compensation and complaint resolution processes, the report said.

Sen. Jane Nelson, chairman of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, said she is concerned about deficiencies in screening and training because many of the employees are caring for children, the elderly and disabled citizens.

"These results are unacceptable and require an immediate response," Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said in a news release Wednesday.

Drafting legislation"It is unimaginable that a terminated employee would continue to receive a paycheck or that someone could be placed on 'emergency' leave for a year while investigations of criminal background checks are taking place," she said.

Nelson said she will address deficiencies in legislation she is drafting to overhaul the screening process for direct care staff.

The employees who continued to get paychecks after they were no longer working for an agency represented 6 percent of the 20,348 employees who were terminated in a 20-month period beginning September 2006. The agency with the worst record was the Department of Family and Protective Services, which continued to pay more than 20 percent of employees who were terminated.

The other agencies overseen by the commission are the Department of Aging and Disability Services, Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services and the Department of State Health Services.

Some functions outsourced

The audit attributed some of the problems to the commission's human resources contractor, Ohio-based Convergys. In 2004, the commission outsourced a portion of its human resources function, including payroll processing and administrative training, to Convergys and reduced its own HR staff.

Stephanie Goodman, a commission spokeswoman, said the automatic payroll system has made it difficult to stop salary checks for employees who suddenly leave their jobs. Recent changes have made it easier to manually override the system, she said.

More than half of the overpayments — which amount to about $600 per individual — have been recovered and the agencies are working to collect the rest, Goodman said.

The commission reported that 43 employees were placed on emergency leave because their annual criminal background checks contained information that needed additional investigation.
The length of the leave periods ranged from less than one day to 343 days, with an average of 70 days.

Most extensive emergency leaves have occurred when employees are charged with crimes, but have not yet been convicted, Goodman said. Policies regarding those situations are being reviewed, she added.

The audit found that 92 percent of agency supervisors hired from September 2006 through March 2008 had not completed one or more required training courses.
And only 43 percent of non-supervisory employees hired during that same period had completed required training.

"The lack of adequate training may expose the (health and human services) agencies to risks such as lack of employee productivity and litigation," the audit said.

The training deficiencies discussed in the audit involve civil rights and human resources training, Goodman said. But she stressed that workers are receiving the training they need.

Auditors also said the commission could not locate 52 of 150 employment verification forms selected for testing. Those forms are required by the federal government to document whether individuals are eligible to work in the United States.

"I think we have the policies in place but we need to do a better job of implementing those in every office," she said.

Some comments from the article:

Cousin_It wrote:
There's no end to government incompetence and waste, dysfunction and ineptness.
9/4/2008 7:50:12 AM
Recommend: (7) (1) [Report abuse]
NativeHoustonian1961 wrote:
Writing those checks was a huge mistake, but cashing them was a crime. Scary to think these people were working for our benefit as state employees at one time.
9/4/2008 1:47:17 AM
Recommend: (5) (0) [Report abuse]
steelman wrote:
well as long as they continue to hire workers based on everything but intelligence this will happen again and again and... well you get the idea
9/4/2008 8:45:34 AM
Recommend: (5) (1) [Report abuse]
Cousin_It wrote:
If a direct deposit is made into your account by mistake that doesn't make it your money because someone else screwed up. Those people knew they had no right to those funds and knew the right thing to do is to return it.
9/4/2008 7:53:10 AM
Recommend: (4) (1) [Report abuse]
SWTSUguy wrote:
NativeHoustonian:1. The state has a rule requiring that all payroll payments be made by direct deposit unless the employee cannot obtain a bank account or the employee is so new that they could not have been timely setup on direct deposit. So, my guess is the vast majority of these payments were made by direct deposit.2. Texas has well settled case law called the voluntary payment rule (which the state itself has used to keep millions of dollars in payments that were deemed to be unconstitutional). Unless the state endorsed any of these checks as payment in protest, which from the context of this article is doubtlful, former employees have every right to cash such checks without recourse.

Audit finds HHSC workers overpaid, undertrained

Group urges Dewhurst investigationASSOCIATED PRESSThursday, September 04, 2008

Audit: Most agency workers lack training

Most employees at the five agencies of the Health and Human Services Commission are not given required training and more than 1,000 fired employees continued to get paid over the past two years, according to a state audit released Wednesday.

The agency, which employs about 50,000 people and has an annual payroll of about $2.2 billion, had not administered commission-required training courses to 92 percent of supervisors hired between Sept. 1, 2006, and March 31, 2008, auditors said. Only 43 percent of agency employees hired during that time had completed at least one of the required training courses.

Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said the agency is working on a notification system so managers know when employees have not completed required training.

The audit also found that the commission continued to pay 1,229 terminated employees in the past two years. Those payments amounted to more than $738,000.

Goodman said more than half of the overpayments have been recovered and the agency is working to recover the rest.

This comment was under the article, and my response to it is in red below that:

HHSC paid terminated employees $738,000 for two years. That sounds like a major fraud to me. Where are the HHSC Inspector Generals? Where are the HHSC Internal Auditors? Simple audit procedure could have detected this type of error. It looks like the Inspector General and the Internal Audit Director were asleep on the job. In the private business both will be fired. Let's see what HHSC will do. I bet you nothing.

Internal Office of Inspector General (OIG) is too busy right now going into field offices and putting caseworkers on levels for forwarding joke emails. /smirk

Privatization Hangover: State audit of health and human service agencies shows continuing management problems

The drive to hire private contractors to take over duties performed by state employees in agencies under the oversight of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission — mandated by the Legislature five years ago — has been a slow-motion disaster. The commission was forced to terminate a major contract with Accenture last year after the attempt to privatize eligibility screening for social service programs caused chaos and erroneously denied services to thousands of qualified Texans.

In early 2006 the state auditor issued a report critical of another commission contractor, Convergys, which was selected in 2004 for a five-year, $85 million pact to provide human resources and payroll services for the 46,000 employees in the agencies the commission supervises. Auditors warned that supervision of the contract was lax, resulting in late and incorrect paychecks to workers and inadequate training and spending on technology.

A return visit by the auditors this year found that payroll and management problems at the state agencies continue. Texas State Auditor John Keel reported that more than $738,192 had been mistakenly paid out to more than 1,200 former state employees after they had been terminated. Only half of those taxpayer dollars have been recovered. In addition, 43 employees were allowed to take paid emergency leave because of criminal charges, with an average length of 70 days. Nine out of 10 agency supervisors had not received required training, while nearly three-fourths of employees sampled had no performance evaluations in their files.

According to commission documents, Convergys is responsible for time and leave collection and tracking, payroll processing, performance evaluations, and administrative training and staff development. The commission is responsible for oversight of the Convergys contract. Neither the commission nor the contractor seems to be performing at an acceptable level.

The chairman of the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, called the audit results unacceptable and demanded an immediate response from agency officials. According to Nelson, "It is unimaginable that a terminated employee would continue to receive a paycheck or that someone could be placed on 'emergency leave' for a year while investigations of criminal background checks are taking place."

She also noted that employee screening and training are particularly critical in agencies where workers are entrusted with the care of children, the elderly and other vulnerable citizens.

For $85 million, Texans deserve better than an automated payroll system that blindly sends checks to ex-employees while promised evaluations and training are not carried out. Health and Human Services officials must also be held accountable for failing to provide the contract oversight they've been promising for years.


Here are some comments posted under the article at the Houston Chronicle:

ebb wrote:
This is another fine mess those Republican voters have gotten us into. Do they really want four more years of failed policies? The drive to hire private contractors does not work.

johncoby wrote:
Our state rep, John Davis in Clear Lake is directly responsible for this. He championed privitization and it failed miserably.

HighAnxiety wrote:
So, why is it that these big bureaucratic government agencies are only reviewed periodically? AFTER they have already wasted our tax money and created problems that only get aired a year later. Does NO ONE in our government actually keep an eye on things on a day-to-day or month-to-month basis? They have computers, don't they? Why is it so difficult to push a button and "deactivate" someone from the payroll? Does no one with authority review "emergency leave" requests? If we're going to privatize these government functions let's do it with the conditions that anytime they waste tax money, it gets deducted from their contracts. Or SOMETHING!!!!!!! Other than being the subject of nasty editorials, let's hear from our govenment folks how they are going to make Convergys pay for their screwups.

milby wrote:
In 2007 I lobbied against Mr. Albert Hawkins, the head of HHSC in the Texas legisature. I was the only person to speak against the nomination of Mr. Hawkins at the Nomination Committee hearing. Seven senators voted against his nomination on the floor of the State Senate. I hope to lobby again next year against his nomination in Austin.Robert Kenney

renehebert wrote:
We all know government buracracies waste money. Maybe the private contracters will waste less money. Give contract to Halliburton they know how to make money at lower cost to government.