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State auditor targets departments that are slow to fix problems

Elaine Howle, who audits state government on the orders of the Legislature, has released her long-awaited report detailing the departments and agencies that failed to heed her recommendations in a timely way or failed to address the problems she disclosed. For the state’s 240,000-member work force, Howle’s report is a wakeup call. For the state’s budget writers, the report may serve as a blueprint to finding savings in a tough budget year.  

The report details some 76 recommendations that Howle, as the head of the Bureau of State Audits, made to tardy state agencies between January 2005 and November 2006. Of the 76 recommendations, only about a third were put into effect. The rest, Howle reported, were pretty much ignored. Howle was not happy — and if there’s anything a state agency wants during tight economic times, it’s a happy auditor.

“Further, based on recent responses to our August 2007 inquiries, agencies still have not fully implemented 36 recommendations, and some recommendations will not be implemented until as late as 2010,” Howle said. Her report includes departments large

For example, to ensure that school districts do not continue to lose out on millions of dollars in federally allowable
reimbursements each year from school-based Medi-Cal, Howle had made three major recommendations to capture funding and establish fees. However, “Health Services responded that it would implement the first recommendation in July 2008 and the third by December 2010 and would not be implementing the second recommendation at all,” Howle noted.

In another case, Howle made a number of recommendations to the Department of Corrections, a troubled agency whose health care operation has been placed under federal receivership. Howle urged the department to “improve its projections of inmate populations used in forecasting inmate housing needs and in awarding contracts.” The department put some of Howle’s recommendations into effect but didn’t address those to achieve “accurate and reliable inmate projections.”

In fact, prison officials told Howle that the system “would not fully implement several of the recommendations until June 2008 — nearly three years after the bureau published the report. Accurate inmate projections are critical in light of the many decisions facing the administration due to prison overcrowding.”

Many of Howle’s recommendations are procedural and reflect classic bean-counting, and in some cases target the offices and divisions within a large department or agency.

She urged the Department of Health Services, for example, to update its accounting processes and more effectively track vendor performance and streamline the flow of its authority. For Corrections, she said the department should take a closer look at no-bid contracts and make sure they were reviewed properly before they were signed, and require vendors to complete detailed conflict-of-interest documents. For the Parks and Recreation Department, Howle recommended that the agency’s Off Highway Recreation Vehicle program closely examine its spending procedures and put together a comprehensive, strategic plan for the entire program. She also said the Department of General Services should run a comparison between the cost to the state of operating its own motor pool with the cost of using a rental vehicle program — a comparison that DGS later did.

The agencies targeted by Howle are the Department of Education, the California Student Aid Commission, the Department of Health Services, the State Athletic Commission, the Emergency Preparedness Department, the Department of Social Services, the California Children and Families Commission, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Department of Parks and Recreation, Department of Fish and Game, State Water Resources Control Board, Department of General Services, Department of Industrial Relations, the state Military Department and the governor’s Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security.

Howle notes that her 103-page study — the first of what is expected to be an annual report — is likely to be considered by the administration and the Legislature when writing the state budget. “The reports are organized to closely match the governor’s budget,” she said.


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