A legislative audit committee has found fault with Nebraska’s move to privatize child welfare services.
Performance Audit Committee Chairman John Harms of Scottsbluff tells the Health and Human Services Committee meeting at the Capitol in Lincoln that the state failed to conduct a cost-benefit analysis in advance of a $30 million reform of the massive system.
Harms says the state didn’t analyze the problem thoroughly before jumping into reform.
“If you really don’t know why the problem exists, how do you know if privatization is even going to fix it?” Harms asks during his testimony before the committee.
The audit committee has found [Full Report PDF] that Nebraska Children and Family Services, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, has made only modest progress in key areas used to justify the move to privatize child welfare services.
The legislative committee report echoes a complaint made by the State Auditor staff: frustration by a lack of transparency.
“Despite the best efforts of our fiscal staff, it’s been extremely difficult to get timely information about the significant changes we find,” according to Harms. “We find this to be unacceptable.”
The audit committee recommends legislation to enact a moratorium on expansion of privatization. Privatization began in 2009 when Children and Family Services signed contracts with five lead agencies to provide child services statewide. Three dropped out. A member of the Health and Human Services Committee suggested that should have tipped off the state that its expectations weren’t realistic.
Harms recommends the legislature require a cost-benefit analysis for any contract valued at $25 million or more. His committee further recommends Children and Family Services be required to undergo performance-based budgeting over the next two years and to explore creating a separate budget program for child welfare.