DHHS audit shows need for better oversight

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos has said a no-bid Medicaid consulting contract was an emergency. Its payout has increased to $8 million.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos has said a no-bid Medicaid consulting contract was an emergency. Its payout has increased to $8 million. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Aldona Wos, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, is a physician and a wealthy Republican fundraiser who agreed to lead the giant state agency for a salary of $1. It has not been a bargain.

Since taking office in 2013, Wos has presided over a series of agency mishaps that have made her leadership very expensive for North Carolina taxpayers. The latest troubles are documented in the findings of a state auditor’s investigation released Wednesday. The report found weak management of the state’s Medicaid payment system, NCTracks, and problems with temporary workers retained too long and paid too much and a failure to properly report overtime costs.

The investigation was triggered by tips sent to the state auditor. The auditor’s report said the investigation looked into “complaints about the qualifications, hiring practices and pay for temporary employees of the Office of Medicaid Management Information Systems Services (OMMISS). … In addition, concerns were raised about excessive compensatory time accumulated by the OMMISS director and misrepresentations to the General Assembly regarding overtime reporting and payments.”

Padded payments, nepotism

The investigation found that the complaints had merit and that the inflated salaries and payments occurred within an office rife with nepotism that the office direcor engaged in or approved by the office director. The director was not named, but Angie Sligh led the office for a portion of the period reviewed, June 2011 to July 2014. She was moved from director in January 2013 and retired frm DHHS in February.

The investigation found that workers connected to the OMMISS director included her daughter, the director’s ex-husband, her ex-husband’s wife as well as at least six employees who regularly attended the same church as the director. There were at least 15 individuals with personal connections to the director, and at least seven of them were not qualified for their jobs or received unjustified pay rates, the auditor’s report said.

The auditor’s report includes in its recommendations that DHHS senior managers should manage. It said, “The Department’s management should provide adequate oversight of personnel actions including salary administration, hiring, and overtime related to temporary employees.”

Some of the alleged overpayments were related to the hiring of temporary workers and contractors as the department struggled to make NCTracks, ready to go and respond when it failed to function properly after going live in July 2013.

Too fast on NCTracks

The NCTracks mess could have been avoided had Wos not elected to rush the system into service before it was thoroughly tested and debugged. The computer system is functioning now, but delays and the waste in the OMMISS office could have been avoided by prudent and competent management by the head the department.

Some of the hiring and payment problems preceded Wos’ arrival, but they were identified by earlier audits and apparently oversight was not improved despite the secretary’s pledge to make the agency more effective and efficient. Referring to the earlier audits, the auditor’s report notes, “Despite these prior notifications, the Department failed to take steps to prevent and detect abuse and waste of state resources.

Indeed, Wos herself has been cited for hiring unqualified but well-connected people. She also hired a former employee of her husband’s company as an adviser. He was paid $228,000 for eight months work. Along with the hiring episodes and the NCTracks fiasco, Wos’ record includes problems with food-stamps processing and complaints that she has run off capable and experienced DHHS staffers.

The governor erred in thinking Wos’ medical training equipped her to run a state agency that handles close to $19 billion in state and federal funds and has more than 17,000 full-time employees. He should put leadership of DHHS into the hands of someone better prepared and more temperamentally suited for the daunting task.