When are we going to get this?

Thanks to a fine investigative review by GoLocalProv (June 5) of the Auditor General’s recent report, we now know that the state continues to make the same millions of dollars’ mistakes when it comes to accounting for federal monies. In fact, 16 out of 17 mistakes were repeat offenses and 11 of those were ranked as “material weaknesses”—the most serious level of fault when it comes to accounting control issues. Why should anyone care? Well, as taxpayers we may have to pay the money back to the federal government.
Rhode Island continues to be a serial offender in spending money after a grant expires, or misstating actual expenditures. These offenses put the state at risk for not receiving reimbursement from the federal government  since some of these “costs” are not reimbursable. In other words, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Already, the state has had to return $3.1 million back to the federal government as a result of mismanagement by the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency. With $2.6 billion of federal monies coming into the budget each year, the Chafee administration still has no mechanisms in place to curb erroneous spending. In fact, the state healthcare exchange, one of his babies, had both insufficient and inconsistent records for the federal grants that it received. Despite having a national avenue to sign up people for health care, that entity is looking for millions more to keep them employed. One “little” error was a $3 million difference in what the state spent and what it reported to the federal government.
The Executive Office of Health and Human Services made the federal government employees scratch their heads when the Rhode Island agency asked for $87.3 million in reimbursement at a time the records kept by the  agency showed administrative expenses of $79.8 million. In fact, the department of Human Services had to return $171,000 in economic stimulus funds after spending the money past its expiration date.
So, we have a systemwide problem of incorrect tallies of expenditures, missed deadlines, and a double accounting system in the state Department of Transportation (DOT) which ultimately made not only the reporting too complex, but led to DOT’s misstatements involving millions of dollars.
So, what taxpayers have is a crapshoot involving future financial hardship for them. Perpetual mistakes continue to be repeated. Monitoring of federal fund expenditures is inadequate.
The Auditor General’s report only looked at state agencies. Quasi-public entities and public universities did not come within the ambit of his work.
Taxpayers are sitting on a time bomb where anything can happen. The City of Providence had to cough up $1.9 million for unauthorized expenditures by the Providence Economic Development Partnership. While politically connected people got loans they didn’t deserve, the local taxpayers had to pony up. History may very well repeat itself at the state level.
The sheer incompetency shown with these examples, even short of full payback, should make taxpayers wince. When are politicians going to get this? Is it so hard to fathom that you can’t spend money you don’t have? Even worse, was some of the runaway deliberate and based on a hope that the feds wouldn’t discover it?
It’s way past time to get these matters fixed.

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