Legislative auditors say Maryland's Department of Human Services mishandled state contracts and unnecessarily spent nearly $5 million — sometimes without getting anything in return.
An audit released Monday found the agency's handling of a huge IT project "resulted in DHS paying approximately $4 million more than necessary for one project that was ultimately cancelled."
The same review found the agency overpaid two law firms by $616,000 because of contracts that promised a minimum amount of compensation. The six other law firms that also provided lawyers to neglected children were paid less per case.
The audit also faulted DHS for paying $300,000 upfront to upgrade an emergency shelter. Nineteen months later, the work still had not been done.
These three issues cited by the audit took place between December 2011 and August 2015.
The Department of Human Services oversees foster care and food programs for the poor, and administers assistance for electricity bills, among other programs.
DHS Secretary Lourdes R. Padilla, who was appointed to the job in February, wrote in a response to the audit that the agency agreed with some of the findings but not others.
The agency disputed that the money to the law firms was unnecessary. It said the Board of Public Works asked DHS to negotiate emergency contracts in order to make sure 16,364 children continued to receive legal services. It said the two firms that picked a minimum compensation program were allowed to do so and that the per-case cost was well within average.
Further, DHS said it should not be faulted for paying upfront for the shelter upgrades because the money went to a state university under a "memorandum of agreement," not a formal contract.
DHS agreed that it could improve its IT planning to avoid unnecessary costs in the future.