|Harrington Looks to Address Auditor's Findings|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
04:21PM / Friday, January 25, 2019
|District Attorney Andrea Harrington and Auditor Suzanne Bump answer questions from the media Friday afternoon about the audit.|
Harrington gives Bump a tour of the office, introducing her to key members of the staff.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — District Attorney Andrea Harrington is following the auditor's recommendation to revamp internal controls.
Auditor Suzanne Bump issued a report
showing that the internal control plan in the office hadn't been updated since June 2016 when it should be every year.
With a transition in the office, the new district attorney sees that as an opportunity to fundamentally change the office at its core.
"A portion of the audit highlighted the importance of having a strong internal control plan and policies in place. In looking at the auditor's report of the strengths and weaknesses of the internal control plan is going to help us have our own very strong internal control plan," Harrington said on Friday.
"The process of going through that and updating that and the mission of our office is going to ensure we actually follow through on the values and the mission I ran on in our everyday decision making."
Bump's report said the plan lacked a tone, goals and objectives, and failed to identify potential risks and any methods to control those risks. Harrington created a new position in the office, director of operations, to oversee a recrafting of that plan. That sets the stage for policies and procedures to be implemented and the foundation of the office's work.
"A foundation element, a starting point, for internal control plan is the articulation of what the values and priorities are. It is setting the tone at the top," Bump said.
"Then as you carry that through and identify the areas of your operation, whether it from a fiscal point of view or a programmatic point of view, you can identify what your weaknesses are and figure out how to address that."
Harrington took office just over three weeks ago. When former District Attorney David Capeless retired, his replacement Paul Caccaviello requested an audit of the operations. Bump's office was in the process of auditing the victim witness advocacy program and expanded its scope to look at operations.
The findings did call for the revamping of the internal control plan but also noted a problem with the timeliness of forfeiture money going to the district. Some forfeited funds from illegal activity were not remitted to the district attorney's by law enforcement in a timely manner.
"She has some really good ideas and has been working with staff in areas where we did find some deficiencies, particularly with the forfeit of funds. That was the most significant finding in the audit," Bump said of Harrington.
Harrington said her office has created a document into its management system for assistant district attorneys to file during a criminal procedure. Harrington is asking the attorneys to file that paperwork during the criminal procedure so the funds are forfeited at the conclusion. Otherwise, it would require another civil motion for it.
She added that supervisors will review the cases at the conclusion and that'll be one area they'll be looking at to make sure it was done.
"I made a commitment during the campaign around what types of funds we would seek to have forfeited. We really have trained our assistant district attorneys to seek funds that are really part of a criminal enterprise. We're not going to be out looking to take grandma's home because drug dealing was happening there. We are really looking for funds that are a result of criminal activity," Harrington said.
Those funds are being used for investigations and equipment, Harrington said, which is in line with how the former district attorney used them. The money is split between the district attorney's office and local police departments.
Bump's work isn't just helping Harrington on those two fronts. The auditor's office conducted audits on the operations of five juvenile diversion programs in the state. The Berkshire district attorney's office is the only one in the state without such a program.
"There has been one that was started in Berkshire County that is run out of the juvenile court. We need to build up the capacity to manage that," Harrington said. "We are looking at what is a really robust, effective, juvenile diversion program going to look like in Berkshire County."
Staff is already in the planning stages of building one, particularly looking at the model in Middlesex County and adjusting it to fit the Berkshires. Bump's audit of five others particularly showed a lack of data collection.
"The main recommendation we made for all of them, since there had not been any rules for DAs to follow in setting them up and they have a lot of discretion in this area, has had to do with tracking the results of the juvenile diversion program," Bump said.
Bump said the offices often didn't track final outcomes to show whether or not the program is effective. She cited a lack of data that would show whether or not the program is reducing adult recidivism.
"Because they don't keep that data, we don't know," Bump said.
Harrington promised to keep such data and make it available.
"Often time the media and communities are looking for data that we just don't have because the way we manage our data is not as effective in providing that. I am really interested in looking at how we can improve that," Harrington said.
She added, "my interest is how we define the success of my office. I don't want to define our success by the number of convictions that we get or the amount of jail time we get. I want to define our success by what kind of value we add to the community."
Bump's office doesn't audit fiscally but instead operationally. She said each state agency gets audited every three years in some form to look at whether or not the agency is following administrative policies required by the state and to see if the programs and services are being provided in the most effective way.
Bump said a handful of audits of sheriff departments were recently released alongside the audits of victim witness and juvenile diversion programs in district attorneys offices.
She said the state police fusion center was audited but federal confidentiality laws prevented what she had wanted to do there and state support for foster care education in municipalities is an upcoming topic -- i.e., how the education is paid for when a foster child moves from community to community.
"At any given time, we have 60 audits ongoing. Most of them have a nine-month duration," Bump said.
Overall, Bump said a common thread is the lack of data collection and sharing. She said the Board of Registered Sex Offenders wasn't working with the Registry of Motor Vehicles or Veterans Affairs to track down the whereabouts of an offender or the Department of Children and Families not working with MassHealth to identify injuries sustained by a child in state's care.
"Not all of the information you'd expect agencies to collect so they could monitor their activities is collected. In those DA's audits are a perfect example of that," Bump said.
Bump said she is happy that Harrington is following through on the recommendations made by her office.
"I am very pleased she has taken this up personally, so seriously, rather than just passing it off to her staff. She had really taken a genuine and deep interest in the aspects of the audit," Bump said.