Legislature’s auditors to tackle IT vulnerabilities, pandemic spending

House, Senate panel approves study of troubled foster care system

Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, persuaded the Legislature's audit committee to approve examination of economic consequences of state law leaving as many as 200,000 Kansans without a valid license to drive. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Kansas Legislature’s auditing division Wednesday received assignments to delve into state government’s information technology security shortcomings, track the spending of state and local COVID-19 relief aid and to explore problems in the state’s foster care system.

The joint House and Senate committee agreed the division of post audit would consider whether state agencies failed to adhere to state mandates to engage in performance-based budgeting. The approach emphasizes results of the investment of tax dollars in development of a budget.

Shorter audits would consider the economic impact of laws leaving an estimated 200,000 Kansans without a valid driver’s license, the IT challenges faced by public school districts and financial implications of the state paying for remedial college classes.

Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican, said it was essential auditors assessed effectiveness and security prowess of the Office of Information Technology, which is part of the executive branch, and the Kansas Information Technology Office, which has oversight in all three branches of government.

“The biggest risk this state has is its IT system,” Olson said.

Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, endorsed the Legislature’s upcoming audit of federal COVID-19 emergency funding and work of a task force set up by Gov. Laura Kelly. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

He said previous audits of state agencies and universities exposed vulnerabilities that were contained in confidential audits shared with legislators and targets of those reviews. Fraud in the state’s unemployment benefit system during the pandemic illustrated for the public the price of weak countermeasures, he said.

Auditors also were instructed to examine how federal CARES Act funding was expended in the state and how Gov. Laura Kelly’s coronavirus task force went about moving federal aid through the pipeline.

“My concern from the start has been where is this money going?” said Sen. Mike Thompson, a Johnson County Republican and critic of Kelly’s administrative decisions during the pandemic.

Democratic Rep. Jim Gartner unsuccessfully sought to limit the audit to appropriation of state COVID-19 funding. The federal government can devote taxpayer dollars to scrutinizing city and county decisions on use of relief money, said Rep. Tom Burroughs, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kansas.

“Let’s not send the message we don’t trust local government,” Burroughs said.

“This isn’t to poke anyone,” said Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican who told colleagues that she heard some counties used federal relief aid to raise employee salaries.

Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican, helped win approval of an audit of the state’s foster care system. She held a notebook of past audits, but believes creation by the Legislature of a foster care oversight committee will keep future audits from collecting dust. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, and Rep. Jarrod Ousley, D-Merriam, convinced the audit committee to investigate the state’s foster care contractors to determine if proper services were available to children. The audit was expanded beyond the original request to require exploration of what judges involved in foster care cases had a high number of runaway children.

“Foster care is an emotional issue. You know that you’re going to have some complaints. People feel like they’re not being heard,” said Concannon, who carried with her a notebook of past audits that identified deficiencies in Kansas’ foster care system.

The difference in 2021, she said, was the Legislature was on the verge of approving a special foster care oversight committee.

“The opportunities that we would have to follow through on this (audit) would be a great advantage. I don’t think that an audit would be stuck away in a notebook on a shelf,” Concannon said.

The committee endorsed a limited analysis of Rep. Gail Finney’s request for a deeper understand the economic consequences of a state system that left so many Kansans without a license to drive.

She said the problem touched all motorists because individuals were making decisions to get behind the wheel without a valid license and vehicle insurance because they couldn’t afford to lose a job.

“It does directly impact a lot of us,” Finney said. “This is a big economic impact.”