ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Human Services failed to comply with legal and state guidelines for state and federal grants it managed and didn't adopt adequate internal controls, a probe into the department found.

The Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor on Monday, March 29, reported that the department's Behavioral Health Division had not taken required steps in requesting bids for grant dollars, assessing applicants and awarding funds. As a result, the division that employs about 140 people and manages tens of millions of dollars in grant funds each year opened itself up to potential instances of fraud, waste and abuse, according to the 56-page report.

Auditors outlined protocols and policies that should be in place to mitigate the risk of abuse of the grant funding and "lacking those controls, (the division) failed to comply with a significant number of important policy and legal requirements," auditors wrote.

The report assessed policies, procedures and controls in place between July of 2017 through March of 2020 based on records obtained from the department and interviews with employees.

The deep dive comes two years after the office reported that DHS overpaid grant funds to counties, American Indian tribes and providers to the tune of $29 million for take-home opioid treatment medications. In the months that followed, the former DHS commissioner stepped down and current Commissioner Jodi Harpstead put in place measures to size up problems in oversight and to resolve them.

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In a statement, Harpstead said the department has found many similar problems in internal reviews and has started addressing those issues.

“We’ve spent the past year working intensely on evaluating our processes and putting the pieces in place to start implementing changes," Harpstead said in a statement. "The auditor’s review found the same issues we’ve identified in our own evaluation of process controls in the department. The report makes us more confident that our plan moving forward is the right plan.”

In response to the audit's findings, GOP lawmakers said they'd seen positive steps toward openness from Harpstead but still wanted more to be done to prevent waste and abuse at the department.

"What I am looking for going forward is that accountability and transparency become part of the culture at the Department of Human Services," Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said. Benson chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com.