Governmental oversight of professional licensing boards in North Carolina – such as the Midwifery Joint Committee or the Board of Licensed Professional Counselors – has been so deficient that the state doesn’t even have a master list of how many exist, according to a recent state audit.
Twenty-six of 57 state boards reviewed by the office of State Auditor Beth Wood had problems meeting training requirements or reporting deadlines during the audit period, the report said, adding that operations and financials need analysis. Boards have promised to or said they’ve come through on remedies, as the report called the shortcomings a potential risk to public protection.
“The lack of oversight at the state level increases the risk that Boards are not providing adequate services to licensees or the public or have financial issues that are not detected,” said the Aug. 21 report, which reviewed board data from fiscal year 2012.
While the attorney general’s office lists 55 boards to regulate, the Joint Legislative Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee counts 57.
“When asked how state-level entities compile their Board listings, one entity responded that it initially received its listing from another state agency but it now receives updates by ‘word of mouth’ from Board administrators and chairmen,” the audit report said.
The audit recommended the General Assembly clarify which state agencies should be responsible, and how, for monitoring licensing boards. Although 38 percent of boards reviewed weren’t compliant with financial reporting deadlines, meaning by law they shouldn’t have been able to expend funds, no state agency reported any steps to halt spending.
Members of six boards during the review period didn’t complete required training on areas such as ethics, the state’s open meetings law and public records.
Jeff Gray, legal counsel for the Private Protective Services Board, one of those cited for incomplete training, said in an interview that the audit’s report gave a limited picture of what happened. Gray said only one board member, a practicing attorney and former judge, missed his training obligation but had completed it twice before and was already knowledgeable on the topics.
Some boards excelled when it came to inspections of the facilities they regulate, according to the 2012 numbers. The Board of Barber Examiners, to evaluate sanitation, checked out 99 percent of barbershops and schools under its purview. The Board of Cosmetic Art Examiners, which has a $2.6 million annual budget, inspected every facility it oversees – some more than once. The Board of Opticians had the highest numbers, logging 838 inspections between 489 facilities – a 171 percent rate. The Board of Funeral Service, however, had just a 20 percent inspection rate, the audit found. While the report listed 1,580 facilities, the board saw 323 inspections completed in fiscal 2012.
Funeral Board Executive Director Peter Burke on Tuesday said his office is budgeted for three inspectors and is behind in its policy to inspect funeral establishments every three years. A fourth inspector is going to be hired, he said, to help with the backlog.
“Lack of routine inspections can lead to people or entities operating outside of the Board’s authority and out of compliance with applicable requirements and standards,” said the auditor’s report, speaking generally. “Ultimately, this may result in the state’s citizens and resources not being adequately protected from unqualified or unscrupulous practitioners.”