Audits to examine Vt. mental health servicesBy Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | October 02,2013MONTPELIER — State Auditor Doug Hoffer says he’ll use his office to find out whether taxpayers are getting good value for the $300 million spent annually on local agencies that administer mental health services on behalf of state government.
An examination of Vermont’s 13 designated agencies is among the four new performance audits Hoffer announced this week. He said Tuesday that the huge sums of money spent on the designated agencies, along with the unconventional manner in which the dollars are disbursed, make the organizations ripe for analysis.
“We have no reason to believe it’s a problem,” he said. “However, given the magnitude of the relationship with the state, and given the importance of the services, it seems perfectly reasonable for us to ask the question of not only whether … grant agreements are being enforced, but if the performance and outcome measures contained within the grant agreements are being met.”
Hoffer’s 10-person staff will also launch performance audits looking at the accuracy of data in the sex offender registry, the potential for increased revenue generation at the Department of Liquor Control, and whether government agencies complied with a 2011 law that mandated 5 percent reduction in energy consumption in state buildings in 2012.
Hoffer said his staff selected the audit topics after running risk assessments that show the potential of an audit to do things like expose waste or fraud, recover taxpayer funds or have a positive financial effect on state programs in the future.
While the designated agencies scattered across the state aren’t part of Vermont government, they administer taxpayer-funded services to people with mental health conditions and developmental disabilities.
Hoffer said it’s been awhile since the auditor’s office scrutinized the programs. In light of a 2011 law that set out specific goals for the agencies, he said, it makes sense to take an in-depth look now.
Hoffer’s audit will be the first to look at reductions in energy consumption at state buildings in the wake of the efficiency law. He said compliance officials designated by the state might not have the expertise to determine whether agencies met the 5 percent benchmark.
“The Department of Public Service is the party which collects the information from various departments and agencies. However, they do not really control the process inside those departments and agencies,” Hoffer said. “We’re not entirely sure (compliance monitors) have the kind of expertise that would make them especially qualified to do that … so we’ll find out if it’s working.”
The audit of the sex offender registry aims to determine whether the state has remedied errors on the site uncovered in an audit released in 2010 by Hoffer’s predecessor, Tom Salmon.
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