A state representative is calling on the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office to consider investigating the Minnesota Department of Human Services after a new report shows the perpetually embattled state agency “violated state law more than 200 times” in the past year.
The Star Tribune reviewed more than 400 pages of internal documents and concluded that DHS “violated state law more than 200 times over the past year with $52 million in contracts and grant commitments to vendors, Indian bands and other state government agencies without proper documentation.”
According to the report, DHS employees would allow vendors to perform work that would be compensated by the state even if contracts had not been finalized or signed. In some cases, DHS employees purchased products using state funds without the requisite approval.
DHS Chief Financial Officer Alexandra Kotze acknowledged in one email obtained by The Star Tribune that they agency “broke the law.”
“We need to be able to explain internally and to the [Department of Administration] how we will prevent this in the future,” she said in an email chain discussing more than $300,000 in violations.
Most of the violations occurred in the agency’s Behavioral Health Division, which reported 30 percent of all violations. According to The Star Tribune, the division had 63 violations involving grants and contracts that totaled $16 million.
Faye Bernstein, a compliance officer in DHS’ Behavioral Health Division, claims she was retaliated against for reporting “routine” issues of compliance. While testifying before the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee earlier this year, Bernstein said her superiors told her that she “was not doing [her] job right” and “was too focused on compliance.”
“The retaliation did ramp up—it was ever on the increase. It was the exact opposite response that I would have thought,” she said.
State Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) wants Ramsey County Attorney John Choi to “examine the latest report, and determine whether the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office should step in to prosecute the repeated violations of law.”
“While I appreciate the good-faith efforts Commissioner Harpstead is making to clean up the agency and restore public trust, at some point we must determine whether there are consequences for violating the laws we have in place,” Zerwas said. “If the agency is unwilling to hold employees accountable, then it may be time for law enforcement to step in.”
Zerwas, who serves on the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, said it’s time for the agency to “fire any employee who knowingly violated state law, as well as managers who were aware of the behavior and failed to stop it.”
“Failing to fire those responsible sends a message that the status quo is acceptable, and that there are no meaningful consequences for violating public trust, misusing taxpayer dollars, and breaking state law,” he concluded.
– – –