Audit: Virginia’s Emergency Management has internal disasters to fix

EMERGENCY: The Virginia Department of Emergency Management has a bit of a fiscal emergency itself to manage.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The state agency that manages responses to natural disasters has a little bit of an internal disaster to manage itself.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management has a pervasive internal fiscal management problem, allowing staff to make questionable use of their fuel charge cards, poorly control petty cash funds, and even spend way more than double the agency’s fiscal 2013 budget, according to a new state audit.

VDEM’s budget often fluctuates, but the original $47 million budget was overspent by more than $70 million because the agency had to catch up on processing grants and projects from years past, according to the audit.

One employee, VDEM’s public assistance supervisor, identified by VDEM as Nealia Dabney, even racked up nearly 3,700 hours of overtime in just three years without even getting proper approval — an “excessive amount of overtime” that raises lots of questions, the audit said.

Employees also used their fuel charge cards in unusual circumstances — like for multiple fill-ups, after work hours and on holidays — without any explanation or receipts. The agency is working on new procedures to fix that, but doesn’t have any specifics yet.

“It maybe wasn’t so much that there was any one particular one, it was just overall, their processes need to be improved in different areas of cash management and budgeting,” said Linda Wade, the auditor who oversaw the VDEM audit. “They have over the last several months undergone some organizational changes in the finance area. And Governor McAuliffe appointed a new agency head. So there are some organizational changes, which could be a good time for them to look at some improvements.”

The agency, which mostly grants funds to localities for emergency preparedness and recovery, had many of the same problems in last year’s audit. Even though it’s made steps in the right direction, it has lots more work to do, the audit highlighted. The report pointed to inadequate staff and poor management for many of the problems.

“Certainly there are some challenges in their situation just given the nature of their operations,” Wade said. “But jut being more realistic, I guess, is a good word, or when you’re estimating making sure that you have good information.”

VDEM responded to Watchdog.org, but didn’t have any information immediately available as to what kind of progress it’s made since the audit took place.

“VDEM has taken steps towards implementing these with recent organizational and process changes,” reads a letter from Jeffrey Stern, state coordinator for VDEM, to the state auditor’s office. “We will continue to monitor our financial processes moving forward and strive for continuous improvement.”

Read the full audit report here.

— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org, and can be reached at kwatson@watchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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