Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘disclosure’ Category

Ex-Highline College cleaning supe to pay $8K ethics fine

by Matt Rosenberg December 2nd, 2013

A former custodial supervisor at Highline Community College has agreed to pay an $8,000 fine in a civil settlement with the Washington State Executive Ethics Board for allegations he used public property for his private business and personal use, in apparent violation of the state Ethics in Public Service Act. Signing an ethics board “stipulation” or settlement document and agreeing to pay the $8,000 fine is Tang T. Nguyen. The case was set in motion with a report to the ethics board from the college a year ago shortly after Nguyen had already resigned.

State: UW Fire Techs Will Pay Thousands For Ethics Goofs

by Matt Rosenberg November 26th, 2013

Concluding a state oversight review that began with an auditor’s report last year, the Washington Executive Ethics Board has reached civil settlements with two University of Washington fire alarm control technician supervisors for allegations they spent hours surfing the Internet while on duty, including while collecting overtime pay. Each agreeing in signed “stipulation” settlement documents to $2,500 in fines and additional restitution were Don Makena and Stan Ross. In restitution Makena will also pay $5,150 and Ross another $1,323. Public records show actual total salary and overtime paid to Makena was $106,682 in 2011 and $94,919 in 2012; while Ross earned total pay of $89,930 in 2011 and $80,836 in 2012. Both belong to the labor union the Washington Federation of State Employees. They remain in their jobs but could be discharged if they make any other ethics missteps, said a university spokesman.

CRS: U.S. Improper Payments At Least $688B Since ‘04

by Matt Rosenberg November 1st, 2013

Improper payments by U.S. government agencies were at least $115 billion in fiscal 2011 and $108 billion in 2012 but billions more may be misspent each year – under the radar of government watchdogs – according to a recent report from the non-partisan research arm of the U.S. Congress called the Congressional Research Service. The partial total has grown in dollar terms from $45 billion in 2004 to a cumulative $688 billion through last year. In percentage terms improper payments are now are at least 4.35 percent of U.S, government annual spending, equal to 2004 but down from a spike to 5.42 percent in 2009 and 5.29 percent in 2010.

From Improper Payments and Recovery Audits: Legislation, Implementation, and Analysis, Congressional Research Service, October, 2013

Definitions, Please
Improper payments are classified as those that shouldn’t have occurred or were for an inaccurate sum, including both over- and under-payments. They may have been made to recipients not eligible based on qualifications or lack of documentation; or for goods or services that were’t actually transmitted. They also include duplicate payments or ones that failed to factor in valid discounts.

Cashing Social Security Checks of Dead Relatives
One example of how improper payments occur is when the Social Security Administration is slow to verify the reported death of a beneficiary because the death notice comes from a “less accurate” source such as a post office, bank, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or Medicare/Medicaid. As it takes time – often years and years – to verify the reported death, SSA may continue to send checks to the decedent’s address. These may then be cashed by other individuals such as family members or caregivers. Public records show the problem is fairly endemic.

A Nationwide Problem
Four different Western Washington defendants pled guilty to Social Security fraud in the first half of this year stemming from payments they received on behalf of dead people.

A host of other such cases, specifically involving alleged or admitted theft of social security benefits intended for the deceased are also archived at the investigations section of the Web site of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the Inspector General. Going back only to May 1 of this year are cases involving charges, guilty pleas or convictions in Ohio (sentenced); Mississippi (guilty plea); New Mexico (charged); Washington, D.C. (sentenced); California (sentenced); Oregon (sentenced); (charged); Illinois (sentenced); Illinois (guilty plea); New York (guilty plea); New York (sentencing); Oregon (guilty plea); New Hampshire (guilty plea); and California – Deputy Riverside County Prosecutor (charged).

HHS Central to the Improper Payments Problem
Improper payments tied to federal health care benefits figured in prominently to a detailed year-end 2012 report from the HHS Inspector General that the agency could save $23 billion per year if previously recommended reforms were implemented. And just today the HHS OIG reported on $29 million in improper Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit paid from 2009 through 201 to illegal residents, in violation of federal law.

So Too, Treasury’s Earned Income Tax Credit
Another prominent example: The Treasury Department’s Earned Income Tax Credit program has seen at least $100 billion in improper payments from federal fiscal years 2003-2011.

From paymentaccuracy.gov

The new CRS reports explains improper payments have mounted due partly to “…agencies’ failure to reduce substantially the error rates for risk-susceptible federal programs with multi-billion annual outlays. In some cases, error rates for these programs have actually increased over time. Moreover, the full extent of the improper payment problem is not known because agencies have yet to develop improper payment rates for some programs, including programs which (the U.S. Office of Management and Budget) estimates may have annual improper payments of $750 million annually.”

According to the Programs Not Reported section of the paymentaccuracy.gov transparency and reporting site now mandated by federal legislation, examples of non-reporting programs include HHS’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, the High Cost Program of the Universal Service Fund of the Federal Communications Commission, and Treasury’s Earned Income Tax Credit Program, which actually does report some improper payments but not nearly all that are thought to be likely. These three are developing plans to more accurately report their improper payments.

Public Data Ferret’s U.S. Government+Management archive

Other Culprits – Unemployment, Social Security, School Lunch Program
An interactive ascending/descending-rank table from paymentaccuracy.gov shows which agencies have the highest amounts of improper payments by dollar and as a percent of spending. On a percentage basis, the Earned Income Tax Credit had the highest rate of improper payments in 2012 at 22.7 percent, followed by the National School Lunch Program, Medicare Advantage Part C, Unemployment Insurance, and Social Security.

Key Fixes Seen
Recommended remedies include removing “statutory or regulatory barriers…to perform recovery audits,” and correcting poor information sharing between agencies on matters such as benefits eligibility, says the CRS report.


Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

Concessionaire owes Seattle Port $635K, auditors report

by Matt Rosenberg October 8th, 2013

Port of Seattle Sea-Tac Airport concession operator HMS Host owes the port $635,704 in unpaid fees, interest and a late fee, according to a recently released port internal audit. The problem arose because HMS Host subtenants The Great American Bagel Bakery and Diva Espresso were misclassified as “branded food” concessionaires who get a discount of about two percent in the share of revenues they must fork over to the airport for the privilege of operating there. Port managers of airport concessions and business development said in the audit they hadn’t been aware of the current problem. But they added they’d seek “appropriate” recovery of funds owed by HMS Host, and would keep closer tabs on branded food sales by concessionaires and related rates of concession payments to the port.

Fraud Report: Timesheet Padding Cost Harborview $16K

by Matt Rosenberg August 29th, 2013

A new fraud investigation report from Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley finds that an “electroneurodiagnostic technician” at Harborview Medical Center – which is owned by King County and operated by the University of Washington – between January 2010 and the end of October, 2012 received pay for 628 hours she didn’t work, valued at $16,286. It is the third time since April 2012 that state investigations have concluded a Harborview worker committed fraud. Another auditor’s report in 2010 found fault with cash handling practices at Harborview.

Port of Seattle temp’s scam try brings three felony charges

by Matt Rosenberg April 8th, 2013

A former Port of Seattle temp named Kelly Wengping Lee hired from the AppleOne firm is charged in King County Superior Court documents with three counts of felony identity theft for allegedly trying to go on an online Nordstrom shopping spree using the Port credit cards of Port Commission Office executive assistant Marcella Hernandez, who supervised her, as well as Port Commission President Tom Albro and then-Port Commissioner Rob Holland. According to a Port police report Lee admitted the attempted buys, and said she needed some retail therapy after recent personal troubles.

Wide range of confidential commissioner ID data found in temp’s home, car
Searches Lee formally authorized by Port police of her Magnolia apartment and her car turned up not only Port credit card numbers for Holland, Albro and Hernandez, but also those of Port Commissioners John Creighton, Bill Bryant and Gael Tarleton, and a wealth of confidential identifying data on Tarleton and Creighton including personal credit card account information, birthplaces and dates, social security numbers, frequent flyer plans and driver’s license numbers. According to case documents, Hernandez had shown the temp Lee a white binder with confidential Commissioner data and told her she might need to use it to make travel arrangements for some of them.

Port driver tried to draw cash at casino, on work card; lied

by Matt Rosenberg April 4th, 2013

A Port of Seattle driver used his work procurement card to try to withdraw money at the Emerald Queen Casino in Fife, then lied to an internal investigator about it, implicating his wife instead, before coming clean and getting a seven-day suspension. The news comes on the heels of a series of ethics lapses at the Port in recent months and years including contracting improprieties, internal theft, use of work computers and working hours to view pornography, and now also the failure of Port staff to reveal commissioners’ expenses, online, as directed.