Livingston Parish continues Hurricane Ida response

National Guard soldiers try to clear a tree from a road in Springfield following Hurricane Ida on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021.

(The Center Square) – A new report from the Louisiana legislative auditor cites more than $52 million in questioned costs from the state’s main disaster recovery agency.

The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) coordinates state efforts relating to disaster preparation and recovery. The agency also administers the Public Assistance Program, a federal partnership aimed at returning affected areas to “pre-disaster conditions and function.”

Public Assistance Program activities include debris removal, repairs to damaged property and items relating to public safety. Under the program, GOHSEP is responsible for the accuracy of documents made by entities that receive public funds.

GOSHEP disaster recovery specialists submitted 1,939 Public Assistance Program expense reimbursements in the first six months of 2021, totaling nearly $458 million, the legislative audit said.

Auditors found compliance problems with 342 reimbursements, totaling $52,432,743. Each reviewed expense also had a minimum threshold of $500.

The audit divides the questioned reimbursements into two sections: type of work and noncompliance category.

The bulk of the cited issues stem from “contract work,” with 208 questioned reimbursements accounting for $44.6 million. Invoices relating to labor and materials accounted for another $3.5 million.

Noncompliance categories included errors, ineligible costs, out-of-scope items and problems with contractor procurement processes.

The largest single category was labeled “lack of support,” which included 193 instances of missing or inaccurate information among the 1,939 reimbursements.

“We noted exceptions totaling $39,180,010 (8.56%) in the other 193 expense reimbursements,” the report said.

Lynne Browning, GOHSEP assistant deputy director of public assistance, did not dispute the legislative auditor’s findings.

“We have reviewed your report and concur with the exceptions identified in the report,” she wrote, adding the agency would amend the issues before “project closeout.”

“GOHSEP has made considerable progress in addressing all historical questioned costs and have realized a high success rate using the information your staff provides to remedy any outstanding issues.,” Browning said.

The audit declined to express a final "opinion or conclusion” based on the agency’s commitment to resolving the report’s findings.

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