An open letter from Senator Newman on state agency mismanagement

You may have heard the recent allegations of rampant fraud, waste, and abuse at the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) and other state agencies. Earlier this month, a Senate committee held an oversight hearing into reports that 32 state agencies entered into thousands of contracts – amounting to more than $52 million over the past year – that appear to be in violation of state law. Senate oversight committees are also investigating mass high-level staff departures$61 million in improper payments to counties and tribal nations for chemical dependency services, as well as issues with the cash welfare assistance program and child foster care services.

These are just the latest examples of mismanagement at the state’s largest agency. The state screwed up – and now the state is demanding counties and tribes cover the costs. For a state government that routinely and repeatedly breaches the public’s trust, there’s a certain irony in bureaucrats asking local governments to pick up the tab for the state’s own incompetence. At best, it’s irresponsible and tone deaf. At worst, it’s crippling for county governments.

DHS appears to be on autopilot, non-responsive to good-faith legislative inquiries and continuing to operate under a culture of dysfunction and mismanagement. As the nonpartisan legislative auditor put it, “The fact that so many DHS management officials allowed the department to make millions of dollars in unauthorized payments over multiple years is inexcusable”.

Perhaps most troubling, however, is the reaction of the bureaucracy. After I spoke out about the mountains of problems at DHS earlier this month, a legislative liaison from the department reached out to me almost immediately. Instead of acknowledging the agency’s repeated regulatory failures, the DHS official doubled down, providing me a list of “clarifications” while completely minimizing the litany of problems at the department, referring to them only as “technical” violations.

We’ve been hearing these reports for months and the law regarding these improper contracts is clear: ‘[a payment] made in violation of this chapter […] is just cause for the employee’s removal.’ Yet, as far as I know, there have been no terminations, no disciplinary actions, and no assurances these problems won’t balloon again.

You might be inclined to ask, “Why is the legislature not doing something about it?”

State agencies are part of the executive branch; the legislature can provide oversight, but ultimate responsibility lies with the governor. I cannot understand this lack of accountability and I urge the governor to take swift and immediate action to stop the bad behavior, put controls in place to protect the taxpayers’ money, and work diligently to establish a positive environment and culture at our state agencies.

The governor must take responsibility for his executive branch agencies. 

Sincerely,

Senator Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson)
District 18 (McLeod, Meeker, Sibley, and Swift counties)

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