“I’ll tell you how to save taxpayers’ money,” the man told me. “Get rid of waste and fraud. That ought to help!”
This past week the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau reported on just such efforts.
Three years ago I voted to pass a law creating the Fraud, Waste, and Mismanagement Hotline. Operational since April of 2008, the hotline was established to encourage the public, government employees and contractors to report suspected fraud, waste, mismanagement and other improper activities happening within state government. Calls into the hotline’s toll free number, 1-877-FRAUD-17, are managed by a Certified Fraud Examiner.
The hotline does not duplicate or replace other government hotlines or complaint services. Those who contact the hotline with concerns not related to state government are referred to the proper authorities. People calling the hotline remain anonymous, although they are encouraged to leave their names so staff can follow up with questions. If a call results in an investigation, the name of those who left information is kept completely confidential - by law.
The recent hotline audit reported 79 hotline calls last year. Of those calls, several were not related to state government. Callers leaving tips about federal programs or private businesses were referred to the proper office. Calls that alleged criminal activities unrelated to state government were referred to local authorities.
While some allegations of improper employee behavior were made in 2008 (including allegations of an employee improperly benefiting at the state’s expense), no reports of employee misconduct were made in 2009.
Fifty-three of the hotline tips received last year were directly related to state government. These calls alleged fraud and inefficiencies in state government, including mismanagement, lack of staff oversight, over spending, improperly billing the state or not complying with state rules.
Several of the problems involved contracts with the state. False information or improper reporting, goods paid for by the state and not received, agencies not following the proper procedures for selecting vendors, improper billing and agencies not properly monitoring private contractors. These hotline tips were investigated by Audit Bureau staff.
The hotline is also an invaluable resource for those of us who serve on the Legislative Audit Committee. We follow-up on Audit Bureau investigations and several hotline calls led to full fledged investigations and public hearings before the committee.
In 2008 a hotline call reported inconsistencies in the enforcement of strict standards relating to the thickness of concrete in roads. The investigation resulted in two public hearings by the Legislative Audit Committee. Unfortunately, our committee was left more questions than answers. The Audit Bureau continues to keep the Audit committee informed of the progress on the state’s quality control of state highway construction.
Another call to the hotline told investigators of potentially unnecessary overtime. Strict federal rules govern overtime at state facilities, such as prisons. We learned in the public hearing that adding staff could actually reduce costs. Our prisons had too few staff and forced workers to work overtime at time and half. Often the higher paid employees volunteered for the overtime - further inflating the costs.
The Audit Committee continues to monitor the use of employee overtime - especially important this year because of the Governor’s requirement that all state employees take unpaid furloughs from work.
People expect government to be efficiently run. Taxpayers deserve to have their dollars wisely spent. The hotline is one way to get to the root of a problem and clean things up. It’s one of the reasons I love my job working with state auditor and her staff as Co-Chair of the Legislative Audit Committee. Working together we all serve as stewards of the people’s money.