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The state Department of Human Services will create a new unit to work with outside auditors and address any problems they discover, the department's director told lawmakers Monday.

At a meeting of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee's Medicaid Subcommittee, Human Services Director Cindy Gillespie also apologized for not attending the panel's last meeting, in July, in which other department officials briefed lawmakers on the department's response to an audit that flagged reporting errors and other discrepancies related to $126 million in expenses.

"We are taking this extremely seriously," Gillespie said. "We have a lot of work ahead."

Some legislators had complained about Gillespie's absence from the July meeting and a meeting in April of the full committee.

"If you come to these meetings, I think you can learn a lot from them," Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas and a vice chairman of the subcommittee, said Monday.

The discrepancies were discovered during an annual review by legislative auditors of programs that receive federal funding.

The bulk of the questioned costs resulted from reports to the federal government that showed Medicaid spending amounts that didn't match information in the department's financial management system.

The audit also found almost $28 million that the state could owe to the federal government because of expenses that lacked proper documentation or shouldn't have been allowed under federal rules.

Gillespie said the amount owed "will come substantially down" after the department supplies the needed documentation.

"We don't anticipate a budget issue around it," she said.

Although she took over as director in 2016, Gillespie said she didn't realize until she was briefed on the audit findings several months ago that the department hadn't been correcting problems that were discovered in previous audits.

"I had almost nothing to say" during the meeting when she learned about the findings, Gillespie said. "I was livid."

Next month, she said she plans to reallocate positions within the department to create an office of internal controls that will make sure such findings are addressed and serve as a liaison between outside auditors and the department.

The office will include a director and two or three other staff members. It won't require any new funding, she said.

She said she has also instructed her staff to be more helpful in providing information to legislative auditors.

"I do hope they're beginning to see a change in the way DHS is responding to their audits and a change in the way DHS is seeking to provide them the information they need," Gillespie said.

"Said very bluntly, if they're not seeing that change, it's something I need to know because I'm trying to push it as hard as I can, and I know that my senior management is trying to push it as hard as they can."

Metro on 08/21/2018

Print Headline: Agency to add unit for auditors

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