- Associated Press - Thursday, November 17, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A Nebraska state agency has paid $57 million in fines and penalties to federal agencies over the last five years, but department officials say they have taken steps to reduce the likelihood of future mistakes.

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services administrators told lawmakers Wednesday they have created a new review process, provided more training for staff and are working more closely with the federal government. The department could owe another $45 million, although that figure could change.

Some of the penalties were imposed because the state didn’t properly document how it used federal money. In other cases, the department changed how it calculated payments for developmental disability services without getting federal approval.

Department spokeswoman Kathie Osterman said some of the issues arose from audits dating as far back as 2003. Osterman said the penalties, known as disallowances, have previously been reported.

“We are cleaning up from these past errors,” said Garet Buller, the department’s internal auditor. “It is now our responsibility and we are committed to do all we can to mitigate potential disallowances from those years.”

Buller noted that some of the payments to the federal government were reduced after the department provided documentation to support its expenses. In one case, the federal government sought reimbursement of $22 million for child welfare expenses that weren’t properly documented, but later reduced the total to $14.2 million.

Buller and department CEO Courtney Phillips provided the update to the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

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