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DWS counters 'serious errors' found by state auditor

By Stephanie Grimes | Posted - Feb 23rd, 2013 @ 6:54pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The Department of Workforce Services issued a statement Friday in response to five years' worth of audits of the department released by the Utah State Auditor.

The audits showed a pattern of serious errors made by the DWS in multiple areas over a series of five years, including several areas in which mistakes had been made in multiple years despite the DWS committing to fixing the problems.

"The error rates in each federal program audited during the past 5 years are significant and include ineligible or potentially ineligible recipients and other errors resulting in millions of dollars of projected questioned expenditures," state auditor John Dougall said at the time. "The ongoing pattern of noncompliance with proper eligibility and evaluation requirements is concerning."

Executive director Jon Pierpont claimed a statement regarding the audits released Tuesday by the state auditor "ignores significant trends of improvement" in department processes.

"Perhaps most disappointing is the auditor's refusal to acknowledge the department's remarkable performance for one of its largest and most astoundingly complex eligibility programs: Medicaid," he said.

Errors in Medicaid were reported for every year from 2008 to 2012, falling from a high of 26.7 percent of cases in 2008 to 3.3 percent of cases in 2012. There were more than $9 million in questioned costs associated with the errors in 2009, compared to no projected questioned costs in 2012.

Photo: Office of the Utah State Auditor

Dougall referred to two programs under the DWS that were particularly concerning: the Workforce Investment Act and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

"When we looked at the Workforce Investment Act, we found an error rate of upwards of 60 percent for the last four years, which causes us concern," Dougall said at the time.

Pierpont said the DWS recognizes the WIA error rate "requires additional attention," but said the DWS has made significant improvements over recent years, lowering questioned costs from nearly $58,000 in 2010 to about $19,600 in 2012. He said the agency has made multiple efforts to address the errors, including undertaking a 100-percent review of WIA cases to gain insight into "particularly troublesome policies and procedures."

For CHIP, the average error rate over the five years released was approximately 25 percent. In 2012, 20 percent of cases tested had some kind of error, and a quarter of those were instances in which individuals were not eligible for the CHIP program.

Photo: Office of the Utah State Auditor

Pierpont said the numbers are an unfair representation of the severity of certain errors. He said most errors found were internal control accuracy errors, referring to clerical errors or misapplied policy. "These errors did not result in a customer receiving a benefit for which they are not eligible, which is ultimately the most important aspect of eligibility," he said.

The compliance accuracy rate within the CHIP program was 95 percent, meaning five percent of errors resulted in misplaced benefits. There were $5,215 in questioned costs resulting from the 2012 errors.

The DWS committed to making certain adjustments by Nov. 2012, and the rest by June 30, including addressing the errors in the WIA and CHIP programs and addressing repeated errors in multiple programs.

Other government programs in which there were found deficiencies in multiple years include the Child Care and Development Fund, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

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