LINCOLN — A new state audit says some Department of Labor employees were reimbursed $699 for trips that never happened.
But the head of the department said Friday that isn’t true.
The differing conclusions of State Auditor Mike Foley and State Labor Commissioner Cathy Lang are headed for a third-party opinion.
Foley, who is a Republican candidate for governor, said he is forwarding his findings to the State Accountability and Disclosure Commission to determine if state funds were misused and if legal action should be taken.
The audit, by Foley’s office, raised several questions about the agency’s oversight of spending but also focused on one field representative in particular. Such “field reps” visit employers to confirm if they’re paying unemployment insurance and to collect unpaid taxes if necessary.
The audit questioned about $699 in mileage reimbursements for one field representative. When auditors checked claims made in November 2013 and April 2013, 29 of the 37 employers contacted said they didn’t meet with the field representative.
Foley said that raises the question of whether the employee worked those days at all, which involved payments of $1,800 in wages, and how vigorously such mileage requests are being checked.
The audit also noted the employee retired amid the probe of his travel expenses, so the department was unable to do follow-up interviews.
“This is still a very, very troubled agency,” Foley said, referring to shortcomings on accounting for federal grants discovered in 2008 that led to federal sanctions.
But Lang, the head of the labor department, disputed the findings about the employee, who she said had been intending to retire for several months.
The labor agency’s written response to the audit said the fact that unpaid taxes were paid by the employers proved that the field representative met with them. The response also said the auditor’s use of Internet “MapQuest” searches to check the number of miles traveled could lead to inaccurate mileage and did not disprove the odometer readings submitted by the employee.
“There is a substantial difference between inadequately documented mileage reimbursements and the theft of state funds,” the official response stated.
Lang said the agency appreciates the work of the auditor and will be increasing the reporting requirements for field representatives. It will also cooperate fully with the accountability agency, she said, even though it believes the field representative did not misappropriate funds.