- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

The D.C. Office of the Inspector General yesterday faulted the city’s HIV/AIDS Administration for poor management of federal funds, including not knowing the addresses of some of the grant recipients it is supposed to monitor.

An ongoing investigation also has uncovered grant money paid to groups not licensed for business in the District, poor accounting and unexplained differences in expenditures reported to the federal government compared to the District’s financial records, officials said.

The inspector general’s office rarely discusses findings of an incomplete audit. Officials did so yesterday at the request of D.C. Council member David A. Catania and because of the “seriousness” of the findings, Assistant Inspector General for Audits William J. DiVello said.

The District has the highest AIDS rate in the country — 170.6 cases per 100,000 residents — and city health officials say between 12,000 and 15,000 residents may be living with HIV. The HIV/AIDS Administration, which operates with an $80 million budget, is under the D.C. Department of Health and is tasked with reducing HIV and AIDS.

Concerns are surfacing about the agency’s finances and its ability to provide services.

Mr. DiVello, who said the HIV/AIDS Administration is cooperating with the audit, said the inspector general’s review focuses on “management and administration of federal grant funds to community organizations and subgrantees.”

So far, the inspector general’s office has found the city’s grant monitors failed to perform the requisite four site visits per year to groups receiving grant money.

Sometimes, grant monitors did not perform any visits at all, even though Mr. DiVello said the employees had “more than adequate time” to do their jobs. “We attribute that to poor management,” he said.

At any one time, the HIV/AIDS Administration has between nine and 12 grant monitors. The employees oversee grants for tens of millions of dollars in services, such as testing, counseling and medical emergency care.

The audit findings first were disclosed during the council’s Committee on Health oversight hearing yesterday. Officials said a draft report has not yet been issued to the HIV/AIDS Administration for the agency’s official response.

The audit coincides with heightened scrutiny of the HIV/AIDS Administration by Mr. Catania, at-large independent, who heads the health committee. Yesterday, he referred to the HIV/AIDS Administration as “a 20-year-old broken horse” that officials must fix.

Mr. Catania noted that most of the problems uncovered by the inspector general and by an ongoing health committee inquiry predate the tenure of Lydia Watts, senior deputy director of the HIV/AIDS Administration, and her superior, D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. Gregg A. Pane. Both started their jobs in September 2004.

“I intend to hold staff accountable for not adhering to my directives as it relates to fiscal integrity and competent grants management,” Dr. Pane said yesterday.

Miss Watts said she is seeking to “change the culture” at the HIV/AIDS Administration. However, she, too, came under scrutiny yesterday for her role in a decision to spend $450,000 on a luncheon and promotional videos for World AIDS Day, while service providers were complaining of cutbacks.

“These were my choices, and I can’t go back on my choices,” she said.

Though not covered in the inspector general’s audit, Mr. Catania raised other concerns yesterday. He singled out an HIV/AIDS Administration program to provide housing referrals that cost $440,000, yet officials said it provided about 800 referrals last year — more than $500 per referral.

A separate program to monitor HIV cases received $1.2 million in funding, but it produced unreliable data, according to agency documents submitted to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mr. Catania said he will schedule another oversight hearing to gauge the progress of the HIV/AIDS Administration in fixing its problems.

“I need to understand this budget from the ground up, and I need to understand every expenditure,” he said.

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