Audit Release: The Oregon Department of Education Should Take Further Steps to Help Districts and High Schools Increase Oregon’s Graduation Rate

Report Highlights


The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has prioritized improving four-year graduation rates in recent years. The Secretary of State Audits Division found ODE could make further progress by helping schools and districts focus on specific groups, such as students who transfer between districts, low-income students, and middle school students. ODE can also better help districts and schools use effective improvement tools, use data to identify students in danger of not graduating, and communicate the importance of graduation to parents and the community.

Background

One in four Oregon public high school students does not graduate on time. Current steps to boost on-time graduation rates include plans to reduce chronic absenteeism, prevent students from dropping out, increase access to college-level courses in high school, and increase career-technical education.

Audit Purpose

The purpose of the audit was to determine how ODE and school districts could increase four-year graduation rates in Oregon’s public high schools.

Key Findings

Through school visits, interviews, data analysis, and document reviews, we found that:

  • Students who changed districts during high school – more than a quarter of all high school students – had graduation rates roughly 30% lower than students who did not. ODE does not analyze or report graduation performance for these students.
  • Schools with mid-range graduation rates – 67%-85% – receive limited improvement support from ODE, though most non-graduates attend these schools.
  • More than 70% of students who do not graduate on time are low-income. ODE should assess the need for services to help those students succeed.
  • The Legislature and ODE has not emphasized middle school performance or student transitions from middle school to high school, though students who struggle in middle school are already at risk of not graduating.
  • ODE does not track student grades or specific credits attained, data the agency could use to help more students graduate.
  • ODE should improve its internal communications and help districts and schools communicate the importance of graduation to parents and the community.

Recommendations

The report includes recommendations to the Oregon Department of Education on additional efforts it could take to increase on-time graduation rates. Among them: focusing on specific student groups, supporting coordination between middle schools and high schools, collecting more detailed student data, and helping districts better use improvement tools.

The Oregon Department of Education generally agreed with our findings and recommendations. The agency’s response can be found at the end of the report.

Read the full report here.

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Audit Release: Higher Education Coordinating Commission Needs to Address Weaknesses in Procurement Practices

Report Highlights


The Secretary of State’s Audits Division found that the Higher Education Coordinating Commission state agency’s (HECC) current procurement practices are exposing the agency to legal, security, and public perception risks. Overall, HECC lacks an effective procurement system to ensure services and goods are procured in compliance with state laws.

Background

HECC is responsible for funding and coordinating public higher education in Oregon. It was established in 2011 as a volunteer commission to focus on strategic planning for public postsecondary education in the state. HECC’s structure has expanded and now consists of an established state agency with 115 budgeted full time equivalent positions in eight offices.

Purpose

The purpose of this audit was to review procurement practices at HECC and identify opportunities to improve current practices.

Key Findings

Within the context that state procurement rules are complex and intended to benefit the state as a whole, we found that:

  1. HECC leadership has not implemented a governance structure to ensure procurements are made in compliance with state laws and rules.
  2. Of the 748 HECC contracts and agreements open from November 2016 to March 2017, 65% were executed after their effective date and 53 or 7% were considered backlogged.
  3. A lack of clearly defined procurement roles and responsibilities and insufficient training has created confusion and inconsistent procurement processes and practices across the agency.
  4. HECC current practices are noncompliant with state procurement laws and rules, exposing the agency to legal, security, and public perception risks.
  5. To reach our findings we conducted interviews and reviewed agency documents, state procurement laws and rules, contract files and agreements, accounting records, and other accounting supporting documentation.

Recommendations

To establish and maintain a robust procurement process, we recommend HECC create a governance structure that clearly defines procurement roles and responsibilities and fully develops, implements, and trains staff on procurement roles, policies, processes, and procedures. We also recommend HECC management ensures consistent adherence to state procurement law and rules.

The Commission generally agrees with our findings and recommendations. Their response can be found at the end of the report.

Read the full report here.

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Audit Release: Oregon Health Authority Should Improve Efforts to Detect and Prevent Improper Medicaid Payments

Report Highlights


Our audit found that Oregon Health Authority (OHA) recovery efforts are appropriate and reasonable, but the agency should strengthen efforts to detect and prevent improper payments in Oregon’s $9.3 billion per year Medicaid program. Prevention of improper payments is more cost-effective than attempting to recover improper payments. We also found that delays in processing eligibility for thousands of Oregon’s Medicaid recipients resulted in millions of dollars of avoidable Medicaid expenditures, a critical issue the agency failed to disclose until raised in a May 2017 Auditor Alert. Furthermore, OHA did not timely disclose relevant information, which impeded our audit work. OHA’s new management has been more proactive and transparent in addressing these issues.

Background

An improper payment is defined by the federal government as “any payment that should not have been made or was made in an incorrect amount (including overpayments and underpayments) under statutory, contractual, administrative, or other legally applicable requirements or where documentation is missing or not available.”

Purpose of Audit

The primary purpose of the audit was to determine if the Oregon Health Authority could improve processes to prevent, detect, and recover improper Medicaid payments. The secondary purpose was to follow-up on OHA’s progress to resolve issues we raised in our May 2017 Auditor Alert.

Key Findings

Within the context that Medicaid is a very complex and challenging program to administer, we found:

  1. OHA has gaps in procedures for preventing certain improper payments. Insufficient management of the agency’s processes for identifying and resolving payment and eligibility issues, prioritization of staffing resources, and efforts to address technology issues put taxpayer dollars at risk.
  2. OHA lacks well-defined, consistent, and agency-wide processes to detect certain improper payments, especially related to coordinated care. We identified approximately 31,300 questionable payments based on our review of 15 months of data. OHA needs to continue researching these claims to determine how many were improper; OHA reported that only a small percentage were improper based on preliminary research of 2,700 claims.
  3. OHA recovery efforts appear appropriate and reasonable, but may be underutilized due to OHA’s limited procedures for detecting improper payments.
  4. OHA reported completing the action plan to determine eligibility for the remaining backlog of 115,200 Medicaid recipients. Approximately 47,600 (41%) were deemed ineligible as a result, although this figure may decrease slightly through the end of November. Failure to address this issue in a timely fashion resulted in approximately $88 million in avoidable expenditures.

Recommendations

Drawing from national leading practices, our report includes eight recommendations to OHA focused on strengthening efforts to detect and prevent improper payments. Oregon Health Authority agrees with our recommendations. The agency’s response can be found at the end of the report.

Read full report here

 

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DHS – Aging and People with Disabilities: Consumer-Employed Provider Program Needs Immediate Action to Ensure In-Home Care Consumers Receive Required Care and Services

Report Highlights


The Secretary of State’s Audits Division found that the Aging and People with Disabilities (APD) program should take immediate action to address gaps in program design and oversight in order to improve the safety and well-being of participants in the Consumer-Employed Provider (CEP) program.

Read full report here.

Background

Oregon is a leader in providing in-home long- term care options for older adults and people with disabilities. The most used in-home care program is the Consumer-Employed Provider program, which positions consumers as employers of their homecare worker.

Purpose

The purpose of this audit was to assess the policies and processes used by APD to ensure the needs of consumers in the CEP program are met.

Key Findings

The effectiveness of the Consumer-Employed Provider program is dependent on the consumer, the case manager, and the homecare worker. If each is capable, competent, and supported in their role, the current model can be successful. Our audit found:

1. Some consumers are not receiving the support necessary to ensure required employer duties are being performed, which adds to case managers’ and homecare workers’ responsibilities.
2. Case managers are not consistently contacting consumers, or monitoring services consumers receive due to excessive workloads.
3. Agency requirements do not ensure that homecare workers are prepared to provide the care and assistance consumers need.
4. Due to current data collection and utilization practices, it is difficult for APD to determine if consumers are safe and receiving the care and services they need.
5. Current deficiencies in the program may put consumers’ health and well-being at risk and keep the program from operating as intended.

To reach our findings, we conducted interviews and case file reviews, collected and analyzed CEP consumer data, and researched federal and state standards.

Recommendations

The report includes recommendations to improve Consumer-Employed Provider program implementation and support. Recommendations include consistently following existing monitoring policies, addressing case managers’ excessive workload and responsibilities, and providing more support to consumers and homecare workers.
The Department generally agreed with our findings and recommendations. Its response can be found at the end of the report.

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Audit Release: Department of Administrative Services Should Enhance Succession Planning to Address Workforce Risks and Challenges

Report Highlights


The Secretary of State’s Audits Division found that the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) should play a stronger leadership role in addressing key workforce risks and challenges within the state executive branch, through enhanced workforce succession planning.

Read full report here

Background

This audit reviewed succession planning within the Oregon executive branch. Succession planning is an ongoing management process used to ensure workforce continuity and effectiveness, particularly in key leadership and technical functions.

Purpose

The purpose of the audit was to determine if and how the State of Oregon could better plan for future key workforce needs, including preparing state employees to fill key roles.

Key Findings

Within the context that effective succession planning is difficult, complex and is frequently not a priority within the public sector, we found:

  1. DAS has not developed or implemented a state-level succession planning framework, despite recognizing the importance of succession planning.
  2. The lack of a succession planning framework increases workforce risks, such as not developing or retaining knowledgeable and skilled employees to perform critical functions.
  3. These risks are exacerbated by demographic and economic trends, including increasing retirement rates, and a lack of formal succession planning processes within state agencies.
  4. State agencies also report challenges, including inaccessible workforce information, that may hinder strategic human capital management practices and should be addressed at a state level.

To reach our findings we conducted interviews, reviewed documents and reported practices, researched leading practices and analyzed workforce data.

Recommendations

Drawing from national leading practices and benchmarking with other states, the report includes eight recommendations to the Department of Administrative Services focused on implementing a succession planning framework in the Oregon executive branch. Recommendations include providing guidance to agencies, monitoring workforce risks, and working with agencies to identify and address barriers at a state level.

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Audit Release- ODOT: The Oregon Fuels Tax System Accurately Assesses and Collects Fuels Taxes for Oregon and Local Jurisdictions

Report Highlights


The Secretary of State’s Audits Division found that the Oregon Fuels Tax System (OFTS) accurately assesses and collects fuels taxes for Oregon and local jurisdictions, collecting over $564 million in 2016. However, processes for issuing fuels tax refunds and system design flaws result in minor overpayments and reporting inaccuracies. Additionally, ODOT should enhance processes for testing system backup files, granting and monitoring user access, setting user password parameters, implementing safeguards over personally identifiable information, and identifying security weaknesses.

Read full report here.

Background

In 2013, ODOT contracted with Avalara to implement a new fuels tax system for $2.8 million, replacing an outdated paper based system previously used to handle Oregon Fuels Tax returns.

Purpose

The purpose of our audit was to review and evaluate the effectiveness of key general and application controls that protect and ensure the integrity of the Oregon Fuels Tax System and its data.

Key Findings

1. OFTS accurately calculates, assesses, and collects fuels tax for the state of Oregon and local jurisdictions, but manual processes governing refund payments should be improved to ensure accurate refund payments.
2. Application design flaws result in a small number of refund overpayments and minor reporting inaccuracies.
3. Changes to OFTS computer code are appropriately managed to reasonably ensure that the system and its data will not be compromised as the result of a code change.
4. System back-up processes have never been tested to ensure system data can be restored in the event of a disruption.
5. Security weaknesses exist in processes for granting and reviewing system access, monitoring activities of internal and third-party users with significant system access, and identifying and remediating system security vulnerabilities. In addition, password parameters should be more robust, and safeguards protecting some Personally Identifiable Information (PII) need improving.

Recommendations

The report includes nine recommendations to the Oregon Department of Transportation focused on addressing weaknesses in the refund review processes, fixing system design flaws, testing backups, and correcting security weaknesses.

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