Minnesota Senate Republicans are planning another hearing on the state’s chronically dysfunctional Department of Human Services, this time on new reports about the agency’s use of “illegal contract and spending practices.”
The Minnesota Sun reported this week on the department’s repeated violations of state law when approving contracts for vendors. The report said DHS “violated state law more than 200 times” in the past year while dealing with $52 million in contracts and grant commitments to various groups.
DHS employees allowed vendors to perform state-compensated work before contracts were finalized or signed.
“This agency is the fastest growing part of our budget,” said State Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which will hold a hearing Wednesday on the agency’s illegal spending practices. The committee has oversight and final approval of all state agency budget requests before they are sent to the floor for a vote.
“We’ve heard about the fraud in childcare assistance, we’ve seen the waste in overpayments to the tribes, and now we have abuse by agency staff spending money without approval and filing a ‘get out of jail free’ form each time,” Rosen added.
DHS employees used what are called 16A and 16C forms to approve spending on services and purchases without a signed contract. These forms state that a “payment made in violation of this chapter is illegal” and “is just cause for the employee’s removal by the appointing authority or by the governor if an appointing authority other than the governor fails to do so.”
As a result, Republicans are now calling on Gov. Tim Walz to take action against employees who violated state law.
“It is the governor’s responsibility now,” said Rosen. “In light of the reporting that 200 forms were filed in the last year at DHS alone, I will be requesting the Department of Administration provide their 16A/16C forms at all levels of contract procurement and agency spending. We will review this request at the hearing next week.”
Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake), chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, acknowledged that DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead “has been given an impossible task.”
“The CFO at DHS has been trying to fix this problem, but the entrenched bureaucracy is preventing meaningful change,” she said. “The governor needs to stop the ribbon cuttings and dig into fixing DHS.”
State Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) called on the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office to determine whether it should “step in to prosecute the repeated violations of law.”
“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 said this week, as The Sun reported.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Minnesota Senate Chamber” by Matt Lewis. CC BY-SA 2.0.