Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Violent sex offenders never got health study DSHS paid UW for

by Matt Rosenberg July 19th, 2011

SUMMARY: A whistleblower report investigation by the Washington State Auditor’s Office found that the State Department of Social and Health Services paid the University of Washington more than $24,000 for contracted work never performed, to develop recommendations for a health plan for violent sex offenders who have been civilly committed at DSHS’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island following the completion of their prison terms. The contractor delivered only a set of PowerPoint handouts made for another agency, relabeled for DSHS. The department is providing professional counseling to the employee who authorized the unwarranted payments, and is seeking reimbursement from the university.

BACKGROUND: The state auditor’s office in November 2009 got a report from an employee of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) that the department had paid a contractor for work not performed. The associate superintendent of the department’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island for civilly-commited violent sex offenders – identified by an auditor’s spokesperson as Cathi Harris – was responsible for ensuring the delivery of contracted work from a University of Washington employee – identified by the spokesperson as Associate Professor of Health Services Clarence Spigner. He was to develop recommendations on a new health program for center residents. Up to $35,153 was authorized for contract services and expenses. According to the auditor’s office, the contract was overseen at the university’s end by Lynne Chronister, Assistant Vice Provost For Research, Office Of Sponsored Programs.

KEY LINK: Investigation into whistleblower complaint against Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Report # 1006035, Washington State Auditor, July 18, 2011

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KEY FINDINGS:

  • Spigner was to assess the social and health needs of the violent sex offenders housed at the center; collect and assess risk factors for disease of the offenders, and appropriate treatment; assess their educational needs and formulate a plan to address those needs; evaluate the center’s current health program.
  • The internal whistleblower asserted Harris authorized payments for Spigner’s work but that the specified services were not actually provided. The state auditor’s investigation found the complaint to be accurate. “The only product delivered was a set of PowerPoint handouts that had been prepared for another agency and relabeled for the Department. The handouts were not a contract deliverable.”
  • Between April 2008 and April 2009, Harris signed and approved a series of invoices totaling $27,129.77. All but one were paid, for a total of $24,070.83 to the University of Washington, for work not done as specified in the contract.
  • In September 2009 after letters of concern from DSHS, Spigner wrote the department that he “was unable to fulfill the contract because he determined the residents would need basic health education” first. Harris told the auditor’s office she thought the work had been done, and that the department had not tried to recoup the money paid.
  • The auditor’s office recommends the department seek to recover part or all of the money paid and ensure Harris monitors future contracts more closely to ensure deliverables are received before payments are made. DSHS said it agreed with the auditor’s recommendations. The department will seek repayment for services not rendered under the contract and has given Harris “corrective performance counseling” including monitoring of a similar contract, while under “under close supervision.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the names of the responsible individuals, provided in response to an inquiry by Public Data Ferret to the State Auditor’s Office.


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