Audit: State DSHS mishandled millions

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A new audit claims the state mishandled millions of dollars intended for people with developmental disabilities and possibly allowed people with criminal backgrounds to work with vulnerable adults.

The Department of Social and Health Services spends $900 million a year on 20,500 people with developmental disabilities. The new audit claims DSHS did a great job helping those people, but it also says there are 15,000 people on the waiting list.

The audit also found problems with the way $17 million was spent.

The state auditor told lawmakers that DSHS overpaid state contractors by $500,000, and there was $11.3 million in questionable payments for which contractors didn't submit paperwork to validate the spending.

There was another $5.5 million in unauthorized payments for failing to have the right signatures and paperwork.

Lead auditor Sohara Monaghan said she looked for signs of fraud and found none. She said it appears the problems are administrative and not related to theft.

The news wasn't all bad, either. Auditor Shauna Good said the audit found the state and its contractors provide excellent service.

"And what we found overall is that people who are receiving services are generally pleased with them," Good said. "But there are many eligible people who receive no services which can significantly affect their lives and the lives of those around them."

The programs DSHS offers are expensive, especially the state-run facilities called RHCs. Expanding the number of developmentally disabled people helped would mean closing some RHCs, but advocates say that would cost more in the long run.

The audit also found problems with the way state contractors were conducting criminal background checks on employees with sensitive jobs. Of 1,500 such jobs, 23 employers should have failed the background check but didn't.

DSHS officials say a fix is already in place.