Inspector General finds unnecessary spending at Commission for the Deaf
By Kevin Litten, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
June 02, 2015
Inspector General Stephen Street on Tuesday (June 2, 2015) released a report detailing what it said was unnecessary spending on contractors and equipment by the Commission for the Deaf.
The investigation was launched in 2012 after the Inspector General was informed of complaints about spending by the commission. Much of the investigation centered on the use of contractors paid for using a five-cent tax on telephone lines paid by consumers funds the Commission for the Deaf.
The report comes two years after a confrontation between Gov. Bobby Jindal and the commission over a proposal to raise that tax by two cents, as detailed in this column by John Maginnis. The commission argued the increase was needed because of a decrease in land lines as people switched to cell phones, The Associated Press reported.
As Maginnis noted, a disease known as Usher syndrome helps make Louisiana the top state for having deaf and blind residents because the disease disproportionately affects residents of Acadian descent.
The Inspector General detailed several ways the Commission for the Deaf’s Executive Director, Naomi DeDual, authorized unnecessary spending on services.
Among the findings:
* The Commission for the Deaf spent almost $440,000 to distribute free telephone equipment to deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the state using private contractors, even though the Inspector General found that five other states distribute those devices without using contractors. If the commission ceased using private contractors, more money could have been spent on the deaf and hard of hearing for other services. The spending was in addition to nearly $517,000 in equipment spending.
* Although the Commission for the Deaf allows for spending on sign language interpreters in emergency situations, 61 percent of the times that money was spent on interpreters was for non-emergency use. To authorize the payments, DeDual classified the spending as “other situations.”
* Contractors were paid $186,655 — or about $150 per patient — to schedule exams and verify income to determine whether deaf or hard of hearing residents were eligible for hearing aids. That expense was “avoidable,” the Inspector General found, and meant less money was spent on the actual hearing aids for residents in need of them.
* DeDual authorized nearly $6,000 in public funds to repay debts for customers of the Deaf Services Center, even though the commission had no obligation to repay that debt.
The biggest piece of the spending was on the contractors that provide equipment to the deaf and hard of hearing. The Inspector General looked into how other states distribute such equipment and found that vendors either mailed equipment directly to people, states provided people with vouchers, or the program was administered by state employees.
According to the Inspector General, DeDual told investigators that the commission used contractors because state law prohibited the use of vouchers or direct mail services.
“Neither we nor the assistant director of the Louisiana Office of State Purchasing and Travel could find any such statute, rule or regulation,” the Inspector General wrote. “Ms. DeDual was similarly unable to cite the law to which she referred.”
The Inspector General recommended the commission stop relying on third-party contractors to perform the service so it can provide more equipment to people in need. It also outlined suggestions for new systems the commission should implement to document invoices and find ways to “more narrowly define allowable services which qualify to be provided with public funds.”
In a letter to the Inspector General, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Interim Deputy Secretary Hugh Eley disagreed with most of the findings, writing that the commission had “consistently provided a high-level of service to Louisiana residents.”
“While the department appreciates the recommendation to clarify language in the manual and improve some systems, we strongly believe the (commission) has operated effectively,” Eley wrote. You can read the deputy secretary’s full response here.
DeDual referred questions about the report to a department spokeswoman who could not immediately be reached for comment.