Where Does the Buck Stop in the Unfolding DHS Scandals?
One of the recurring themes from the Walz administration in the multiple scandals at the Department of Human Services is that no one individual can be blamed or should be assigned responsibility for the unfolding mess at the state’s biggest agency. That way no one can be held directly accountable.
But now Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans has arguably taken it a step further, providing cover for DHS staff responsible for dozens of newly uncovered violations in procedures and payments in an interview with the Pioneer Press.
Minnesota’s chief financial officer says nobody at the Department of Human Services should be fired or prosecuted over violations of state contract laws because no money was actually misspent and the violations themselves often boiled down to procedural errors.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said the 200-plus violation reports that DHS has logged this year among contracts totaling nearly $52 million are “technical issues (that) do not rise to the level of fraud or abuse.”
The reported violations further illustrate the stunning lack of controls and procedures in a state agency with an $18 billion budget and 7,300 employees.
The system Frans referred to is the violation forms that DHS employees filled out in cases when vendors or grantees started work before contracts were signed, or when employees committed to spend money on products and services without permission. Both cases are technically violations of state law, though the latter can be deemed valid if the expenses are later justified as legitimate by the agency head — which is what happened in about 150 of the 205 violations.
Most violations occurred because of bureaucratic confusion, according to a Pioneer Press case-by-case review of all the violations. Paperwork was lost, deadlines were missed, employees did not understand procedures, and the agency did not communicate with vendors in a timely manner.
But DHS officials and staff will face much tougher scrutiny at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday.
In announcing the hearings earlier this week, state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, referred to the violation forms as “get out of jail free” forms.
Asked to respond to Frans’ position Friday, Rosen said: “I would be interested in hearing what the commissioner would feel appropriate for people who blatantly break the law. … There should be consequences.”
Yet the only consequences resulting from the DHS scandal to date have been retaliation against whistleblowers like Faye Bernstein, who repeatedly warned the agency about contract violations and irregularities. Rather than investigating, DHS insiders had Bernstein escorted from the building amid warnings that going public could jeopardize her career.