Audit cites bad morale, decisions at SRS

Report on reorganization described as 'devastating'

? A reorganization of the state’s welfare agency under Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ administration has produced low staff morale, decisions based on political pressures and an increased layer of managers, according to a state audit released Thursday.

Sebelius had no comment on the audit of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services because she had not been briefed on it yet, said Nicole Corcoran, her spokeswoman.

But several lawmakers were critical of the reorganization of the agency, which provides a wide range of social services to thousands of Kansans daily.

“This post-audit really confirmed a lot of things I’ve heard from other state employees at SRS,” said Rep. Lana Gordon, R-Topeka, who requested the legislative audit.

Andy Sanchez, executive director of the Kansas Association of Public Employees, said the audit was devastating.

“There has to be some kind of follow-up. The report revealed nothing short of atrocities, and I hope the Legislature will look deeper,” Sanchez said.

Mammoth effort

SRS officials said the audit would help the agency continue its reorganization.

“We will be looking very seriously at the information,” Deputy Secretary Candy Shively said.

But Shively said because of the mammoth effort to change the agency, some criticism had to be expected. And SRS officials noted that a survey conducted by Fort Hays State University showed that three-fourths of SRS clients said they were satisfied with the accessibility of services.

Several members of the Legislature Post-Audit Committee, however, were critical of the agency and passed the audit to legislative committees that have budget authority over SRS.

More management

The legislators focused on an anonymous survey of SRS employees, in which allegations were made that employees were told to disregard federal and state laws.

And some noted they had been approached by SRS employees who feared if they went public with problems at the agency they would lose their jobs.

The audit looked at the ongoing overhaul of the massive agency that has more than 4,000 employees and a $2.4 billion budget.

The reorganization was touted as a way to reduce administrative expenses and get services more efficiently to clients. The overhaul was driven on two fronts – budget shortfalls in 2002 at the end of Gov. Bill Graves’ administration and recommendations to streamline the agency from a team appointed by then-Gov.-elect Sebelius. It started under former SRS Secretary Janet Schalansky and has continued under current secretary Gary Daniels.

As part of its reorganization, SRS reduced its 11 area offices to six and closed 62 county offices.

But the audit said the reorganization has resulted in more management staff and fewer positions for caseworkers and support staff.

And auditors said that in their research SRS officials told them that several county offices that were scheduled to be closed have remained open because “political pressure had been applied to keep these offices open.”

Growing caseloads

A survey of SRS staff found morale problems caused by growing caseloads per social worker, favoritism in hiring and a lowering of requirements to fill supervisory jobs.

The number of Kansans receiving assistance has increased in some programs by nearly 35 percent since the SRS reorganization, while the number of caseworkers has increased by 1.8 percent, and the number of support staff has decreased by 12 percent, the audit said.

“The upshot is, we get rid of less expensive people and increase more expensive people,” said Post-Audit Chairman John Edmonds, R-Great Bend.

A random sample taken in April of 500 SRS field staff produced 285 responses. Of those, many employees complained that vacancies were being filled based on favoritism and the job interview process was inadequate. Sometimes interviewees would be asked a question such as “What kind of superhero would you be?”

A handful of SRS employees have contested reassignments from the agency, which they say are demotions.

The Civil Service Board ruled against SRS and ordered the employees be reinstated to their previous positions. SRS has appealed those rulings to state district court.

Sanchez, with KAPE, said dedicated employees at SRS “want to have the resources to be able to do their jobs.”