King County did a lot of things right during the H1N1 outbreak, but it looks like it screwed up when it came to claiming money from the federal government for the emergency.
An audit released last week by the State Auditor's Office found that the county did not comply with federal grant requirements, including reporting and providing proper documentation for six separate federal grants, including homeland security, child support enforcement, community development block grants, and H1N1 emergency preparedness.
Christine Lange, a spokesperson for King County's Finance and Business Department Division, called the audit's findings "pretty routine," given that the county administers 339 federal grants worth $225 million annually. "It was not an instance of fraud and abuse," Lange said. "However, we find the audit helpful."
The audit, which examined the county from January to December 2009, found that King County wrongly billed the federal government $919,211 for administrative costs, unsupervised cell phone costs, fringe benefits and paid time off during the swine flu emergency.
For example, telecommunication charges alone came to $50,410, which included cell phones, pagers, PDAs and wireless services, the report said. The county issued 30 cell phones to employees and volunteers without keeping track of who they were assigned to. Program staff charged a "lump sum" of cell phone expenses to the grant. The county does not have any policies for cell phone use or require users to sign an agreement. The audit found $5,087 in ineligible telecommunication costs charged to the grant. Lange said that although some departments had cell phone policies in place, she wasn't sure if it extended to all departments.
"Controls over compliance with federal requirements were not designed to operate effectively during an emergency," the audit concluded. The county partially agrees with the audit's findings in the audit report and says it's taking steps to address them.