- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2005

For the second time this month, the watchdog arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is criticizing the District’s handling of millions of dollars in federal bioterrorism grant funds.

Citing accounting lapses and spending delays, federal auditors found that nearly half of the more than $3.5 million awarded to the D.C. government to prepare hospitals for a bioterrorist attack had gone unspent before last August.

The findings were disclosed in a report released last week by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services. Auditors tracked grant funds awarded to the District between April 2002 and last August.

A report by the same agency released July 7 noted similar problems.

It recommended that the District reimburse the federal government $238,537 that the city received under a bioterrorism grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That audit cited improper or undocumented expenditures and overtime costs.

The federal money for preparing hospitals came from the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency that oversees hospital bioterrorism preparedness grants.

According to inspector general’s audit, which was released Thursday, the District “did not properly record and report program funds” and had not earmarked about $1.6 million of the more than $3.5 million that it received to prepare hospitals for a bioterrorism attack.

“Large unobligated balances suggest that funds may not be fully utilized to meet important program goals and may indicate a need for stronger program oversight,” auditors wrote in the report.

In addition, the Health Resources and Services Administration said it could withhold future grant dollars, according to the report.

Yesterday, Gregg A. Pane, director of the D.C. Department of Health, pointed out that the audit did not include progress made since last August.

“There certainly was a problem there,” Dr. Pane said. “We’re already set up to do much better.”

He cited an improved accounting system, recent hiring and the formation of an advisory committee to recommend the best uses of federal bioterrorism funds.

Federal money has been spent on stockpiling medications, training and adding surge beds so hospitals can add capacity in case of an attack, Dr. Pane said.

“There had been issues with the accounting system, but I think that’s less of an issue now,” he said. “The important thing is we’re not losing any of this money.”

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