Maryland Health Secretary Joshua M. Sharfstein told two Senate committees Wednesday that the state has hired an outside consultant to help figure out how Maryland's Developmental Disabilities Administration failed to spend $25 million that had to be returned to the general fund.

State officials told the Finance and Budget and Taxation Committees that there doesn't appear to be any criminal wrongdoing in the matter and that an employee appeared to be rolling over small surpluses over several years, although it is unclear for how long. The spending problem was found after the employee left.

State officials said the incident showed other weaknesses in the agency's archaic accounting system, which is mostly manual, that may have left the underspending hidden for so long. Unlike other agencies, DDA also estimates payments in advance and then reconciles at the end of the year.

The state inspector general also found that communication between the regional offices and central office is poorly coordinated.

The underspending has brought criticism from some health advocates and lawmakers because of a backlog it has created of patients seeking care. An alcohol tax also recently passed to benefit services for the disabled.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

Twitter.com:ankwalker

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