OIG report says deaf commission wasteful, used copied signatures
BATON ROUGE - The Office of the Inspector General released a report Tuesday which said a two-year investigation found nearly one million dollars in questionable spending from the state Commission for the Deaf and its director, as well as evidence people used photocopied signatures to authorize payments.
The OIG said between 2012 and 2014 the commission spent $690,527 on unnecessary services and another $228,156 on "unsupported expenses and equipment that cannot be located."
The biggest expense was $439,759 the commission paid to private contractors in order to distribute items such as amplified or text telephones to people who were hearing impaired, something the OIG said other states do without hiring a third party. The inspector general said they also could not find $14,363 worth of telecom equipment, and identified another $219,720 paid to contractors in 2012 without authentic signatures.
The OIG said one group, Southwest Louisiana Independent Living Center, used invoices between 2009 and 2014 which had photocopied signatures of a council on aging director on them without that person's knowledge. The invoices had signatures which were photocopied, physically cut out, then taped onto a blank document. The inspector general said this was done 204 times and for at least eight months after the director whose signature was copied retired.
The report also called into question spending authorized by Director Naomi DeDual, including more than $58,000 paid to sign language interpreters. The OIG said public funds can be used for interpreters during emergency medical situations, but 61 percent of all interpreter assignments during their review were for instances classified as non-emergency "other situations" and approved by DeDual.
DHH Interim Director Hugh Eley said they disagreed with most of the report's findings, saying he believed the Commission for the Deaf operated "effectively" and followed all state and federal laws. He also said Louisiana has a larger number of people served by the commission's work than the other states cited by the OIG, and the contractors paid to deliver the devices also provided necessary training. Eley said the commission will also introduce a resolution at a later meeting to consider a more specific definition of which interpreter services qualify as "other situations" for spending purposes.
Eley also claimed the use of incorrect documentation was isolated to "one contractor's employee," but the OIG said their findings showed the commission had a "systemic failure" to stick to its own paperwork policies.