FILE - PA Eugene DePasquale, Pat Browne 4-24-2019

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (left) and state Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne address a news conference April 24, 2019, in Harrisburg.

As chairman of the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee, Republican state Sen. Pat Browne is among those with the primary responsibility to examine the state budget with the finest-toothed comb available.

Democrat Eugene DePasquale, meanwhile, as auditor general has a wide mandate to seek out waste and inefficiency throughout state government.

For the past couple of years, a common frustration for Browne and DePasquale has been the lack of a way to know if the thousands of vendors hired by the state’s Department of Human Services are making good use of the Medicaid dollars intended to benefit seniors and people with disabilities.

The amount of money, according to Browne, amounts to tens of billions of dollars annually, but the oversight in the yearly state budgeting process is minimal.

To address this, Browne and DePasquale on Wednesday announced a series of audits of six randomly chosen human services providers. At a news conference in Harrisburg, Browne said that their intent is to bring a level of scrutiny that hasn’t been previously possible to a massive portion of the state’s annual spending.

“There has been an interest – a substantial interest – of going beyond on the normal annual review process to get in more detail on spending that usually doesn't come before us during the committee reviews, the spending that happens outside of the state capital,” Browne said. “Because the vast majority of spending, especially in the human services area, happens in communities. It doesn't happen in state government, so it's not usually part of our review process.”

DePasquale said that he would like to be able to annually audit each of the thousands of vendors to ensure that tax dollars are spent wisely, but that it would be impossible. In fact, there is only enough money to do the initial six audits because of the passage of a bill last year that allocated $500,000 to the task. But he didn’t rule out auditing other vendors if worrisome information comes to light.

“I want to send a clear message to all vendors … that this is our joint effort in making sure that any vendor that is getting Medicaid dollars should be on notice that we will continue to monitor all aspects of the Medicaid budget to see what other vendors may need to be added down the line if necessary.”

Both men expressed a hope that the vendor audits would become an ongoing part of the annual budgeting process, with the idea being that because any vendor could theoretically be selected in a given year, all of them would be on their best behavior.

“The expectations are high that with limited [taxpayer] dollars, we're going to be making sure that it's spent in the most productive, effective way possible,” Browne said. “And the auditor general's work here will, I believe, provide a lot more confidence there.”

According to a news release from DePasquale’s office, the initial six audits are expected to be complete in early 2020.

Dave Lemery is the Pennsylvania & Ohio News Editor for Watchdog.org. He welcomes your comments. Contact Dave at dlemery@watchdog.org.

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Dave Lemery is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship newspaper was named best weekly in Illinois, and he has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.