A state agency that is being sued in federal court over the way it cares for Oklahoma’s 10,000 foster children will come under new scrutiny next month when a performance audit gets under way to pinpoint problems and find solutions.


A state agency that is being sued in federal court over the way it cares for Oklahoma’s 10,000 foster children will come under new scrutiny next month when a performance audit gets under way to pinpoint problems and find solutions.
The independent audit, authorized by the Legislature this spring, will be a “broad-ranging look” at how the Department of Human Services provides services to the state’s most vulnerable citizens, state Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa, said Tuesday.
“You’re dealing with vulnerable kids, adults — the most critical,” said Peters, chairman of the House Human Services Committee. “I think it’s going to be a great thing to bring in third-party eyes to look at this.”
Peters said two private companies have already submitted bids to perform the audit and that lawmakers are waiting for a third bid before they award a contract. He said the performance audit is expected to kick off in July.
A spokesman for the agency, George Johnson, said officials welcome the performance audit. It will not be unlike reviews that are performed regularly by state and federal auditors, Johnson said.
“We’re constantly being looked at,” Johnson said. “We work very diligently to be a very transparent government agency. Any and all personnel at the department will fully cooperate.”
The performance audit is one of four that state lawmakers have authorized of state agencies over the past year.
An audit of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections conducted last year found that state prisons are antiquated and the state’s prison system is underfunded. The audit by MGT of America, Inc., cost $844,000.
This year, lawmakers appropriated $650,000 to the Legislative Service Bureau for internet technology and facilities management studies of the prison system.
DHS has almost 8,000 employees and operates on a $1.7 billion budget, including $557 million in state money. The agency administers 40 different state and federal programs including the foster care and food stamp programs. It also enforces child support and child-care facility guidelines.
But DHS workers have complained that low funding and staffing levels are preventing them from effectively helping the vulnerable Oklahomans they serve.
A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Tulsa in February on behalf of nine foster children accused the state of victimizing its foster children by not finding “safe and adequate” homes for them and inadequately monitoring their safety “due to an overburdened and mismanaged work force.”
The lawsuit seeks a complete overhaul of the state’s child welfare system and alleges DHS has not provided for the basic safety of foster children in ways that “threaten their ability to live normal childhoods, to grow and develop and, in many instances, to even survive.”
Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, has criticized plans to hire a private auditor to look at DHS. Morrissette said lawmakers should investigate the problems themselves and not wait for auditors to tell them what to do.
“I am convinced that the audit will simply give us a general overview,” said Morrissette, who conducted a series of hearings this spring on problems within the agency and how they are affecting Oklahomans.
“An audit is simply a way of shucking the responsibility,” he said. “We are going to get a vanilla, pasteurized version of what is going on.”
Among other things, Morrissette said he has found that the salaries of DHS caseworkers are too low, their caseloads are too high, they receive minimal training and get no support from supervisors.
Morrissette said he believes DHS is too large to adequately fulfill its mission. He filed legislation this year to break it up into smaller agencies, but the bill did not get a hearing.
“If we’ve got to break this agency up into different agencies, let’s do it,” he said.