CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — 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 told the AP that he and state finance officials will rescind the discretion of high-ranking state employees to either 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.
Despite getting additional funding from the state, the clinics still have to turn some people away.
Sandoval and his top advisers say state employees committed no wrongdoing because they worked quickly to address some of 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, according to her supervisor, Richard Whitley, director of the Department of Health and Human Services. She also did not share it with auditors, according Sandoval’s top auditor.
Phinney said she could not recall whether or not she shared the information with anyone outside her division, saying it was more important to correct the issues, such as clunky financial record-keeping.
“I’m not trying to hide anything,” she said.
Phinney also failed to disclose the findings in quarterly reports that she and every other state administrator are required to compile. The AP reviewed her three quarterly reports that followed the review.
That process is also changing. Whitley directed health administrators last week to begin telling him about all federal site inspections and grant reviews in their written reports.
“Understanding the situation now, based on (the AP) story, we have changed the process,” said Chrystal Main, Whitley’s spokeswoman.
Phinney kept the report under wraps until early this year, when she told budget staff at the Legislature that her division needed more funding because of a streamlined computer system and other changes after the review.
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.”
He said he plans to follow up on critical federal reviews within 90 days of receiving plans for needed changes.