CONTRIBUTORS

After mismanagement questions, MaineHousing audits cause for confidence

Posted Oct. 13, 2013, at 10:41 a.m.

MaineHousing recently received the results of three audits that are worth noting. The positive outcomes provide our staff, our board and the public confidence in the work of MaineHousing. It also clears any questions regarding the work of two computer consulting firms we used: Joseph Associates Inc. and Kinney Consulting & Associates LLC.

Our board requested the first audit to look at two major computer programs that were designed for MaineHousing by two Maine firms. Concerns were raised about the costs and necessity of the systems used to manage the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, and Weatherization Assistance Program. CohnReznick LLP, an auditing firm specializing in technology, was selected to perform the review.

The independent firm concluded that the programs were needed and that the costs were reasonable. They said the LIHEAP software program “is a proven solution,” that “MaineHousing should continue to use” the system, and that the “ongoing support costs appeared to be reasonable.”

The auditors determined that the weatherization software program “was initially designed and developed to meet the needs of the United States Department of Energy weatherization program and an anticipated nationwide consumer market. A significant expenditure, primarily with DOE funds, was made to develop [it]. MaineHousing should continue to use [it], as other alternatives either do not meet DOE requirements or are not economically feasible.”

The two software systems were designed by Joseph Associates Inc. of Hallowell, a firm led by John Joseph. Additional consulting services for the weatherization system were provided by Lynn Kinney of Kinney Consulting & Associates LLC.

The second audit was performed by the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. It reviewed our administration of LIHEAP and the federal Weatherization Assistance Program. Both programs were found to be well run.

Unlike most OPEGA reviews, these reviews were not prompted by some specific concern. Instead, the programs were evaluated to provide suggestions for improved administration. In both cases OPEGA made a number of constructive suggestions that we are implementing.

After nine months of thoroughly examining the program, “OPEGA concluded that overall MaineHousing administers the LIHEAP program in an effective and efficient manner.” OPEGA raised a question about enhancing controls used to prevent and detect abuse. The Government Oversight Committee and I have discussed the costs and benefits of implementing preventative controls.

For the weatherization program, OPEGA found that, “Overall, the program is well operated and in alignment with federal expectations. The households that are weatherized reflect program priorities and requirements. Weatherization projects are generally completed to program specifications and clients are very satisfied with the services received.” They also noted, “there are certain steps that MaineHousing can take to strengthen program performance. MaineHousing had already begun these actions during the time of this review.”

The third audit was the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 Management Assessment Program review conducted earlier this year. We were recognized as a “100 percent, high performer” for our management of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. This is the highest score possible.

We have worked very hard over the past year and a half to get this program back on track. We appreciate this recognition of our efforts, and we will continue to strive for high standards and efficiencies.

Our staff managed extra work created by these audits, and we are pleased with the results. In the first case, our board had questions about the computer costs and the audit provided the assurance they needed. In the second case, we are glad to have independent confirmation that we are doing a good job and appreciate the fresh look and the resulting recommendations. The third case recognizes a remarkable turnaround.

We have had other successes as well. This past year we created 46 percent more affordable housing units at a cost that is 36 percent lower than the year before. These results underscore the dedication of our staff and board to provide efficient, quality services to the people of Maine.

John Gallagher is director of the Maine State Housing Authority.

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