The new director of the state's child-welfare agency told skeptical House members that problems with lax oversight that allowed fraud schemes to go unchecked for years have been corrected.
Richard Calica tried to assure lawmakers that procedures now in place at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services will safeguard against future fraudulent billing.
State Rep. Patricia Bellock said that while lawmakers are sensitive to the vulnerable population DCFS serves, past agency contract and grant scandals have led to lingering skepticism that problems will be corrected, especially during the state's fiscal crisis.
At issue was alleged "large-scale fraud" worth more than $18 million uncovered last fall by state investigators reviewing grants and contracts held by George E. Smith during a three-year period, according to a state report.
Smith did business with several state agencies and universities, the report says. But DCFS, which gave Smith's companies nearly $9 million, was the hardest hit, according to the agency's inspector general.
Smith has not been charged with any crime.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is investigating to try to recoup some of the money.
Calica, who took over at DCFS three months ago, appeared Friday before an appropriations committee for human services and urged the panel to support Gov.Pat Quinn'sproposed budget.
Though the budget includes a 5.5 percent cut for DCFS, Calica said he'll still be able to add to the agency's depleted child protection staff.
Besides new hires, Calica hopes with union support to reorganize the agency and move what he considers unnecessary "middle management" to the front line in roles where they will have direct contact with children.
The Tribune recently reported that DCFS is violating critical terms of a federal consent decree that set acceptable levels for new case assignments for investigators.
The newspaper's analysis showed that investigators statewide handled more than the permitted number of new cases over several months last year. The biggest trouble spots were found in Cook County and southern Illinois.
Jason Kay, a lobbyist for Council 31 of theAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said union leaders consider the caseload levels a crisis. He said DCFS staff has been reduced by one-third in the last 12 years and that Calica's plan to fix it appears "inadequate."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun