CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Adjutant General James Hoyer advised the House Veterans Affairs & Homeland Security on Wednesday about the progress he’s made in getting the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management back on track.
Deep into the questioning, when the meeting had passed an hour, the meeting went a bit off the rails when a delegate criticized previous DHSEM Director Jimmy Gianato and another delegate moved to take the meeting behind closed doors in executive session. That debate was aborted when a third delegate moved to adjourn and his motion carried.
Hoyer and Gianato were both invited to address the committee regarding recent audits showing DHS failed to keep track of inventory and failed to “establish an effective internal control environment over the administration of federal grants, which resulted in frequent untimely submissions of important financial data and being placed on manual reimbursement by the federal government.”
Hoyer told the members he was charged by Gov. Jim Justice to improve DHSEM’s management practices and make it more responsive to local governments in times of need. I think we’re making fairly significant progress in both areas and moving forward.”
Committee chair Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, referred to the two recent audits and more conducted during the past 10 years. “Is this just some sort of pervasive incompetence in the past, indifference to the law?” Or corruption, he asked.
Hoyer said it wasn’t corruption but “failure of management processes and leadership.”
He said Gianato did not attend the meeting because he’s finishing his retirement documents and was attending to final appointments and healthcare matters.
“I’m the guy tasked by the governor to be responsible for getting this on track. We’ve hired, I think, a pretty good individual to move forward.” The individual is Gianato’s former deputy and now DHSEM Director Michael Todorovich.
Regarding the failure to draw down available federal dollars, Hoyer said he and Todorovich are working closely with FEMA Region 3 Administrator MaryAnn Tierney to spend $12 million available for relief of recent disasters.
Tierney is sending five full-time employees to help finish addressing those issues – their arrival was delayed by the federal government shutdown – and has agreed to keep the disaster files open so that DHSEM can draw down all the money in phases, he said. None of that money will be lost.
Hoyer said he’s used part of the money to hire 22 additional full-time staff. Gianato had previously told legislators that a lack of staff was one reason his agency wasn’t able to adequately track grant dollars.
According to a December performance report by the legislative auditor, the manual reimbursement penalty requires DHSEM to submit a reimbursement request form to FEMA, with appropriate backup documentation before receiving reimbursement for expenditures. While the process is regularly one step, DHSEM’s failures led FEMA to require an additional step of submitting all information to FEMA for approval to spend before submission of the reimbursement request.
Hoyer said FEMA is sending an audit team to West Virginia in July, and he expects FEMA will then end the manual reimbursement penalty.
Regarding the missing inventory, Hoyer said they’ve launched an accountability system so people have to sign items in and out. They’re 95 percent complete in their inventory accounting, waiting until completion of the Statewide Interoperable Radio Network upgrades so that equipment can be logged in.
“We’ve come a long from, hey, we don’t know where anything’s at, to we’re talking about five items or less that we’re still trying to finalize the accountability for,” Hoyer said. And that’s been done in a 90-day period.”
Hoyer said DHSEM inventory will be consolidated with National Guard equipment at the Guard’s Rock Branch warehouse. This move will save DHSEM $40,000 in leasing fees that can be pumped back into the agency for other uses.
Committee vice-chair Buck Jennings, R-Preston, worried that DHSEM money and equipment might get commingled under the new arrangement of putting DHSEM under Hoyer’s oversight. Hoyer assured him that they will be kept separate. He is instating professional procedures but it will remain civilian.
And Todorovich said DHSEM equipment will be kept under separate lock and key, with five agency staffers overseeing inventory.
During questioning about Gianato’s leadership, Delegate Ray Hollen, R-Wirt, referred to Gianato as “grossly negligent in his duties.”
Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, immediately interrupted and moved for closed-door executive session under House Rule 83, which permits them for personnel matters, especially where the discussion might unfairly reflect on the person’s reputation.
During debate of the motion, McGeehan stepped down from the chair to oppose it. “What we are talking about here is mishandling and gross incompetence of an entire state agency with a track record of incompetence for the last decade,” he said.
And individuals are specifically mentioned in the auditor’s reports, he said. “I believe that that is best done in a transparent light so the truth can come to the top.
As debate continued, Delegate Michael Angelucci, D-Marion, moved to adjourn – a non-debatable motion that takes precedence. Most members voted yes for that.
That ended the executive session debate and the meeting.