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HHS financial management practices ‘unacceptable,' lawmakers say

Feb. 6, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
The letter from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius asked her to identify the HHS division responsible for each violation, the reason for the problem and whether it was related in any way to the 2010 health care overhaul.
The letter from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius asked her to identify the HHS division responsible for each violation, the reason for the problem and whether it was related in any way to the 2010 health care overhaul. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Two lawmakers have asked the Health and Human Services Department to explain financial management problems flagged in a recent audit, including violations of the Anti-Deficiency Act, which bars agencies from obligating funds without a congressional authorization or appropriation.

It is "unacceptable that HHS fails to maintain accurate financial records and fails to adhere to federal law designed to protect taxpayer dollars from mismanagement and waste," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., wrote in a Monday letter to the department's secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.

The letter cites findings in a November audit of the department's fiscal 2011 financial statements by Ernst & Young. Last July, HHS identified and declared "multiple instances of violations" of the Anti-Deficiency Act, the audit said, adding that a follow-up review found several other potential infractions. In their letter, Coburn and Boustany ask Sebelius to identify the HHS division responsible for each violation, the reason for the problem and whether it was related in any way to the 2010 health care overhaul.

Coburn and Boustany are also seeking an explanation of an approximately $500 million discrepancy between the department's general ledger and the Treasury Department's records, as well as almost $900 million reported on the financial statements of HHS operating divisions that could not be reconciled with supporting documentation. They asked Sebelius to respond by March 15.

An HHS spokeswoman could not immediately be reached Monday for comment on the letter. But the department generally concurred with Ernst & Young's findings, according to a memo from Chief Financial Officer Ellen Murray appended to the audit. HHS management intended to prepare corrective action plans, Murray said, and "is committed to working toward resolving these challenges."

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