Final Report on Documents Issued
Poloncarz Administration refuses to allow Comptroller’s office access records to complete full audit
(Buffalo) – The Office of Erie County Comptroller has issued a final report on the mishandling of highly confidential documents of residents that were haphazardly left in the trash for many years, a fact supported by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz:
"This has been going on for many years, perhaps during the Collins or even the Giambra Administrations."
Source: Honorable Mark Poloncarz, WIVB.com, “Confidential Records Left Out in Open,” 5/20/13
In addition to the report that shows Erie County has known about this issue going back to at least the Spring of 2007, four Social Service employees stated there are no security measures or controls in place that would prevent county workers from making changes to case files for people who apply for Temporary Assistance.
According to the four Department of Social Services employees, there are no checks, balances, or safeguards in place to prevent workers from changing records and approvals or denials of people applying for Temporary Assistance.
“Everyone can make changes in the system. You can make changes in Medicaid.”
Source: Interview with Social Services employee #93683, June 7th, 2013
“In 26 years nothing has been changed in the system. In WMS (the Welfare Management System, where files are stored) I have access at all levels.”
Source: Interview with Social Services employee #25519, June 4th, 2013
“No one is checking the examiners’ work and they are so far behind that they can just go in and put in whatever they want.”
Source: Interview with Social Services employee #56281, March 12th, 2013
“It used to be that examiners obtained information and had little access to the system. When they eliminated data entry (workers), they gave all the control to the examiners. They now gather the data, input the data, and accounting is no longer checking for any missing documents. There are no longer any controls.”
Source: Interview with Social Services employee #15934, March 4th, 2013
The Office of Erie County Comptroller attempted to test these concerning lack of controls to determine whether or not the system in place could be manipulated in order to change records without permission.
Numerous roadblocks were put in place by the Poloncarz administration to deny auditors access to records. The defiance and lack of cooperation was so bad at one point the Comptroller’s Office was forced to issue subpoenas to conduct interviews with Department of Social Services employees.
If auditors are not given access to determine whether or not any Social Services employee can change records in the Welfare Management System, the Office of Comptroller could file a lawsuit for access or hire a forensic computer firm to test the reported lack of controls with the computer system.
In a letter dated June 7th, 2013, Director of the DSS Office of Legal Affairs Thomas Kubiniec informed the Comptroller’s Office Audit Unit that they would not be provided any further access to confidential records. Since access to participant records was denied, the Office of Comptroller cannot perform the audit tests necessary to determine if eligibility requirements have been met.
“If the administration has nothing to hide they should welcome auditors to determine whether or not workers can manipulate welfare case files without permission. By dodging, denying, and deflecting it appears the Department of Social Services doesn’t want to address this serious issue brought up by its own workers. The administration’s continued pattern of secrecy is not how government should work. If they have nothing to hide then they should have no problem addressing the concerns of its own employees. Unfortunately for taxpayers this administration continues keeping the public in the dark about the people’s business,” said Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw.
As for the administration continued denial of access to records and employees, the Office of Comptroller has been met with persistent resistance from the Department of Social Services to determine whether or not workers have free reign to change welfare records without permission.
The Comptroller’s Office audit was delayed one month between February 14th, 2013 and March 15th, 2013 while the Department of Social Services claimed they were determining whether or not access to records would be granted.
After auditors requested interviews with Department of Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert sent employees an email stating their cooperation with auditors was voluntary:
“Any requests…from the Comptroller’s Office that will take you away from your primary work responsibilities should be directed to your respective supervisors. To reiterate, I believe these interviews are voluntary. If you consent to their interview request, it must not interfere with your work.”
Source: Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert email to Social Services employees, May 7th, 2013
Signs were even placed throughout the Department of Social Services on bulletin boards reminding employees that cooperating with auditors were voluntary:
“Attn: Medicaid Workers Selected for interviews by the Comptroller’s Office: Member participation in the investigation is voluntary. There should be no concern of insubordination for refusal to participate in the interviews….The member may discontinue the interview at any time without concern of insubordination.”
Source: Bulletin board memo located on the 4th floor of the Rath Building, photographed on 5/7/13
Following these directives from the Commissioner of Social Services, out of 22 interviews requested by the Comptroller’s Office, only two employees showed up, 20 declined or did not appear during scheduled times. Because of the lack of cooperation a total of 18 subpoenas were issued to Social Services employees. Only until subpoenas were issued did all 18 of those employees agree to be interviewed by auditors.
“The information provided in these interviews show workers are concerned about the lack of security measures and who can change case files. We may be forced to sue or hire a forensic computer specialist to test these controls. This would be costly to taxpayers, but the administration’s lack of cooperation may leave us no other choice,” added Comptroller Mychajliw.
Concerning the dumping of confidential documents in the trash and leaving them in unsecured boxes and totes, former DSS Assistant Commissioner and First Deputy Commissioner William Graham told auditors Erie County was aware of this issue in the Spring of 2007. That is when Mr. Graham told the Office of Comptroller that a member of the public approached him after finding confidential documents blowing in the wind outside the Rath Building.
Erie County was also aware of this issue in June of 2009 when the Department of Social Services issued a “High Importance” email notice to all employees regarding the disposal of confidential documents. This email, dated June 1st, 2009, stated that “totes will be locked at all times” until they will be securely picked up and disposed of by the recycling company.
The Comptroller’s office walk-through to check policies and procedures shows the Department of Social Services was not complying with this email notification.