A retired state Department of Health and Human Services manager wasted more than $1.6 million by hiring as temporary employees a dozen people whom she personally knew and paying them too much, according to a state audit released Wednesday.
The audit does not name the manager, but Angie Sligh was head of the office that managed information systems for Medicaid in the period covered by the audit. She retired earlier this year.
Before 2013, Sligh was in charge of the installation of a Medicaid bill-paying system that is now called NCTracks. Sligh and the work of her office have been the subject of previous critical audits.
A 2012 audit detailed the new system’s cost overruns and delays. A 2013 audit reported excessive overtime payments to Sligh and other managers reporting to her. Wednesday’s audit said DHHS management should have monitored her more closely.
In a 17-page response to the 25-page audit, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos disputed some of the audit’s thrust, saying that the agency “disagrees with some of the inferences and conclusions” and that some of the audit includes a “flawed analysis.”
State Rep. Justin Burr, who had been critical of Sligh’s work managing the Medicaid computer project, said Sligh “should have never kept her job after the first set of issues arose.”
“I am extremely disappointed that after we first uncovered serious problems that we’re learning of a second set of serious problems involving that exact same employee again misusing taxpayer money and her position,” the Albermarle Republican said.
The audit says Sligh directly hired four executive assistants who attended her church. She also hired her daughter, her ex-husband and his wife, according to the audit.
Other employees learned about openings through connections to Sligh, the audit said. One was her hairdresser’s sister and another was her neighbor’s daughter.
Sligh could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The audit concludes:
▪ At least $1.6 million was “wasted” in excessive wages and commissions paid to temporary staffing agencies as well as “unjustified” overtime and holiday pay to ineligible employees.
▪ Sligh “engaged in or allowed” nepotism.
▪ Sligh received unauthorized compensatory time payment that “may result in inflated retirement benefits.”
▪ Oversight of Sligh was inadequate.
The audit lists 15 employees at DHHS who had personal connections to her – six of them through her church. Of the 15, six were not qualified for their jobs, according to the audit. Those same six – plus one more with ties to Sligh – were paid at a rate exceeding their qualifications, according to the audit.
“The OMMISS (Office of Medicaid Management Information System Services) Director abused her authority by hiring individuals connected to her,” the audit said.
The report especially targets pay. It says more than $800,000 was paid to employees whose wages exceeded their qualifications. It says nearly $600,000 went to temporary agencies as commissions that were not necessary.
The audit also says more than $200,000 in overtime to the group of employees was not justified.
One receptionist told auditors that overtime work was because “the phones were super busy off the hook ... even after hours.”
An assistant who logged more than an average of 17 hours in overtime per week told auditors she arrived 15 minutes early to open the office and stayed 15 to 20 minutes late to close it.
One executive assistant was paid $86,852 in 2014, according to the audit, more than anyone else with a comparable job in state government. Gov. Pat McCrory’s personal secretary made $78,000 that year, the audit said.
The response from Wos, who has been in McCrory’s Cabinet since he took office, said that the agency fired some temporary workers but that it also disagreed with plenty of the audit.
The agency maintains that five, not 12, of the temporary employees were overpaid, and the cost was about $121,000 – not more than $800,000 calculated by the audit. Pay for other workers was appropriate, the agency said.
In its written response, DHHS said Sligh did not violate the state nepotism policy because none of her direct relatives worked for her.
The agency said the total questionable costs in the audit are overstated. The actual amount is about $150,000 – not more than $1.6 million, DHHS said.
“It appears that the vast majority of temporary workers referenced in your draft report were temporary workers who were initially retained a number of years ago, and most of them no longer work” at the agency, said the response from Wos.
The audit also said the DHHS office broke the law by hiring at least four information technology staff and contractors without approval from the Office of Information Technology Services.
The four were hired through a private temp agency and using personal services contracts. The $961,000 paid to those four employees could have been saved or reduced by hiring state employees or by creating state time-limited positions, the audit said.
DHHS agreed with some of that audit finding but said it did not violate any laws.
Sligh’s comp time questioned
Sligh, who lives in Raleigh, was replaced as the main person driving the DHHS payment system in January 2013 but remained employed at DHHS until retiring in February. Her salary as of 2013 was listed at $135,498.
The audit says Sligh had accumulated more than 2,000 hours of comp time between Jan. 1, 2013, and Oct. 31, 2014 – despite being in what auditors said was a position that prohibited her from earning it.
The comp hours allowed Sligh to stockpile vacation and sick leave that she was compensated for when she retired, the audit said. She would have been paid for unused vacation time – and the unused sick time would have been added to her length of service, the audit says.
DHHS disagreed, saying Sligh was allowed to earn comp time. She was paid 240 hours of vacation time as allowed by state policy and did not receive pay for more than 13 hours, DHHS said.
She did not receive direct payment for comp time, and her retirement benefits were not inflated, the agency said.
Here are 15 DHHS hires the audit questioned and Angie Sligh’s connection to the person hired:
Business Analyst, church
Contract assistant, church
Executive assistant, church
Budget analyst, church
Office assistant, church
Tech. support specialist, church
Business system analyst, hairdresser’s sister
Technical resource, neighbor’s daughter
Payroll service, former husband
Project support specialist, ex-husband’s wife
Office assistant, daughter
Office assistant, son of church member (and contract assistant)
Tech support specialist, worked together at previous employer
Receptionist, wife of former colleague at previous employer
Business and tech. applications analyst, former colleague in previous job
Source: State auditor