July 3, 2017 - 5:31 pm
CARSON CITY — Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval plans to require state agencies to disclose all U.S. reviews after he learned from The Associated Press about problems at rural public health clinics that have cost the state hundreds of thousands of federal dollars over the past two years.
Sandoval’s office said he and state finance officials will rescind the discretion of high-ranking state employees to tell their bosses about unflattering reports or to stick them in a drawer indefinitely, a change that could lead to the unveiling of hundreds of U.S. reviews done to maintain federal funding.
The state lacks requirements for officials to disclose possible problems in hundreds of grants and programs, because in most cases, they are not forced to share federal or internal reviews outside their office.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found misused grant funds, sloppy record-keeping and undertrained staff at state-run reproductive health clinics in 2015. Officials denied Nevada’s application for $600,000 in annual funding for the clinics eight months later.
The report on the Title X family-planning program went directly to the state administrator who oversees those services. It was not heard of again for two years, when the administrator asked lawmakers for money.
Sandoval and his top advisers say state employees committed no wrongdoing because they worked quickly to address the issues and because no law required them to share the review’s findings.
Under the rule that the governor, secretary of state and attorney general were expected to officially approve next month, agencies must share with auditors all federal reviews showing that fixes need to be made.
Auditors and other officials then will know to follow up on the problems.
Now, federal reviews can go unreported unless they are formally requested under public records laws or if agency leaders voluntarily discuss them with other officials.
Cody Phinney, administrator of the Division of Public and Behavioral Health, never reported the health clinic review, said her supervisor, Richard Whitley, Department of Health and Human Services director. She also didn’t share it with auditors, Sandoval’s top auditor said.
Phinney said she could not recall whether she shared the information with anyone outside her division, saying it was more important to correct issues such as clunky financial record-keeping.
“I’m not trying to hide anything,” she said.
Whitley directed health administrators last week to begin telling him about all federal site inspections and grant reviews in their written reports.
Phinney kept the report undisclosed until early this year, when she told budget staff at the Legislature that her division, after the review, needed more funding because of a streamlined computer system and other changes.
Legislative staff members mentioned it in written briefings to lawmakers, Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Rick Combs said.
Steve Weinberger, administrator of internal audits, said state agencies have not provided him with federal reports apart from official audits.
“We need to know this kind of stuff,” Weinberger said. “What we will do is make sure they resolve the issue. We’ll get a copy of it, and we’ll go and actually verify that that’s what they did.”