SALEM — The Oregon Secretary of State’s Office is on track to receive more complaints this year to the government waste, fraud and abuse hotline than in any of the previous five years.
As of Nov. 10, the agency had received 235 complaints, according to audit manager V. Dale Bond at the Secretary of State’s Audits Division. Employees still have to go back to remove any duplicate complaints, but the highest number of complaints in the last five years was 184 complaints in 2010, according to an email from Bond. The lowest number of complaints during that period was 145 complaints in 2012.
Molly Woon, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said employees believe the increase in complaints to the hotline might be connected to Gov. Kate Brown’s message to state employees in March, in which the governor asked employees to speak up if they observe problems. Brown included a link to the web page for the government waste, fraud and abuse hotline.
“We think this is at least in part due to the Governor’s introductory email to state employees in March ... and her highlighting the hotline program in her new role,” Woon wrote in an email.
In her message to employees in March, Brown highlighted the response of employees at the state data center who questioned a request from a staffer in former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office to delete Kitzhaber’s emails.
“I believe the staff members at (Department of Administrative Services) who were not comfortable with what they believed they were being asked to do by Gov. Kitzhaber’s office responded correctly by notifying their supervisors, and the agency’s decision to suspend further action was appropriate,” Brown wrote. “I appreciate the good judgment these individuals demonstrated as well as the investigative work that is bringing important information regarding these events to light.”
Statistics on the outcomes of the complaints were not available on Wednesday, but they can vary widely depending upon the incident.
For example, a 2014 complaint that Oregon Parks and Recreation Department employees had not properly recorded work absences was referred to the parks department for an internal investigation. The inquiry revealed that two employees specifically identified in the complaint — HR director Tasha Petersen and HR analyst Susan Kirschenmann — had recorded on their timesheets that they worked hours when they were actually out of the office for vacation or sick leave.
Earlier this year, a complaint to the hotline prompted auditors at the Secretary of State’s Office to investigate the Department of Energy’s handling of renewable energy and efficiency tax credits. Auditors ultimately concluded that the Department of Energy never publicized a 2012 decision to allow people to ignore price regulations on the sale of energy tax credits, so few finance firms knew they could negotiate such deals. Brown responded to the findings by calling for a review of the Department of Energy.
“Our hotline team works diligently to triage urgent complaints and concerns, forward calls to other state agencies when appropriate, and investigate cases when necessary,” Woon wrote in an email.