N.M. homeland security department misses audit deadline for second consecutive year

Tim Keller

The state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, riddled with money-management problems and rocked by scandal in recent years, hasn’t submitted an audit for the 2016 budget year, which ended a year ago.

The agency, which is under the control of Gov. Susana Martinez, is the only state department that hasn’t submitted its audit to the State Auditor’s Office for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016, according to the Auditor’s Office. The examination of the agency’s financial statements was due Dec. 1.

It is the second consecutive year that the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department has been significantly late in submitting its annual audit. The department is now more than seven months late in submitting its 2016 audit despite an assessment last November by a Martinez spokesman that the agency had “righted the ship” when it came to its finances.

State Auditor Tim Keller, in a statement last week, said the department has made some improvements but it “continues to be the least well run agency in our state.” He proposed last year that another agency oversee the department’s critical financial functions.

The department’s previous audit, for the 2015 budget year, was submitted nearly a year late. It cited a host of money-management problems, saying many of them posed a risk of theft of public funds, and included a disclaimer from the agency’s private audit firm that it was unable to say that the department’s financial statements were accurate.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management Secretary Jay Mitchell criticized the audit firm’s work, saying it was slow in identifying problems, and replaced it with the firm of CliftonLarsonAllen.

In a June 23 letter to Keller, CliftonLarsonAllen said that in conducting the 2016 audit, it is doing additional work concerning the previous fiscal year. The letter said the firm anticipates submitting the audit to the State Auditor’s Office no later than Aug. 31.

A spokeswoman for the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department said no one was available to talk about the late audit, but she said in an email, “Because of the delay, we’ve obtained a new external auditor.”

Among the laundry list of problems listed in the 2015 audit: The agency didn’t regularly reconcile its cash, didn’t conduct an annual audit of its property and equipment, and spent money without proper documentation and approval.

The audit said the department wasn’t in compliance with federal grant requirements and was jeopardizing future federal funding.

The Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department — whose mission is to coordinate emergency preparedness, prevention and response — is largely funded with federal money. It is projected to receive $13.5 million in federal funds in the 2018 budget year.

The 2015 audit critical of the department followed a review in May 2016 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which also found significant problems.

FEMA said the department needed to correct several contracts, conduct on-site monitoring of projects and implement a system that ensures files for pass-through federal grants to other government agencies have all required documentation. FEMA also said the department had made progress to address its concerns.

Mitchell, who took over the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department in late 2014, said after the FEMA review that the agency had problems but said many of them predated his appointment, were due to a high vacancy rate in department staff, and were being addressed.

But as of June 1, seven months after Mitchell made the comment about vacancies, 17 of the 66 budgeted positions at the department were vacant, according to an organizational listing report for state government.

The Governor’s Office rejected Keller’s proposal that another agency oversee the department’s finances.

The problems at the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department have extended beyond money matters.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is investigating whether training certificates were falsified for a search-and-rescue team managed by the state agency so the team could continue to receive federal funding. Last year, FEMA said it was removing the team from the national urban search-and-rescue system.

In 2014, The New Mexican — citing internal reports, other documents and interviews with past and current agency employees reported that the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department was rife with dysfunction and overwhelmed by even relatively modest requests for disaster relief aid.

Contact Thom Cole at 505-986-3022 or tcole@sfnewmexican.com.

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