Inside HRSA, November - December 2008, Health Resources and Services Administration
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Duke Praises Oversight Team's Vigilance in Criminal Case

When HRSA Project Officer Bryan West tried finishing up the quarterly reports that grantees are required to submit for construction projects, he found one missing.

West called the grantee — a physician in Harrisonburg, Va. — to offer a friendly reminder that the report was due. But all he got was an automated message informing him that the line had been disconnected. His e-mails, too, bounced back undeliverable.

West realized something was wrong, and immediately contacted Neal Meyerson, the project’s Grants Management Specialist. Joining forces with the staff at HRSA’s Division of Financial Integrity (DFI), the two men embarked on what eventually became a two-year investigation involving the HHS Office of the Inspector General and the Justice Department.

Dr. Elizabeth Duke, HRSA Administrator, applauded West and Meyerson this month for their diligence in helping track down “an unfortunate instance of financial malfeasance in one of our grant programs.”

“Perhaps less known to people in and around HRSA,” Dr. Duke added, “is the layered structure in place to make sure that situations like these never happen in the first place — and when they do, that the perpetrators are caught and stopped.”

Begun in August 2006, the case of the disappearing doctor ended this fall with Federal wire fraud and tax perjury convictions against Francis Habo George, 59, for diverting tens of thousands of dollars in HRSA grant money to pay personal expenses.


Neal Meyerson and Bryan West
HRSA's Neal Meyerson (left, seated) and Bryan West uncovered the irregularities that led to the fraud conviction of a Virginia physician for misuse of grant funds.


Initially awarded $393,000 by HRSA to underwrite upgrades to his rural medical practice, George siphoned off funds to pay his home mortgage, his son’s college tuition, and credit card bills, prosecutors said.

“Mr. George took a Federal grant intended to improve conditions for his patients and instead used taxpayer money to line his own pockets,” said Acting United States Attorney Julia C. Dudley in a prepared statement.

Rare at HRSA

Although such cases have been rare at HRSA, Dr. Duke noted that the Agency’s Division of Financial Integrity (DFI) constantly sifts through reports and accounting statements to help prevent it.

DFI’s staff of nearly one dozen accountants and financial analysts, led by Director Patricia Reese, begins their work early in the grant-making process to identify potential problems by conducting pre-award financial assessments and reviews.

With these reviews, DFI assesses a prospective grantee’s current and past practices to ensure that they have the necessary financial management expertise. DFI then issues funding recommendations to HRSA’s Division of Grants Management Operations, which makes the final decision on whether to make an award and sets any conditions that might be needed.

According to Reese, the office not only conducts a review for every potential new grantee, but also for all existing grantees before a new budget period begins.

In 2008, DFI conducted several thousand pre-award reviews of potential grant award recipients, including recipients of 889 congressionally earmarked awards.

Additionally, DFI is charged with resolving findings and recommendations that appear in post-award audits conducted on grantees that expend over $500,000 of Federal funds in a fiscal year. DFI interacts with the audited organizations as well as HRSA program and grant offices to resolve any issues cited in the audit reports.


For more information...

On the case uncovered by West and Meyerson, see the news release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Virginia: Luray Doctor Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud, Tax Perjury.

To report any allegations of wrongdoing related to HRSA programs, please contact the Office of Inspector General or DFI’s Sherry Angwafo at 301-443-9547.

DFI also reviews allegations made against grantees, programs and individual HRSA employees. Tips come from a wide variety of sources: Office of Performance Review site visits; public letters to the Administrator; online submissions; and whistleblower calls to the HHS Office of the Inspector General hotline (800-447-8477 [HHS Tips]). Regardless of the source, DFI reviews, follows up on, and tracks them all.

According to Reese, most complaints relate to minor infractions or issues that can be corrected; only in rare circumstances is serious malfeasance detected. But fraud is often uncovered as a result of a referral or anonymous complaint.

In the case of grantees, most complaints typically show evidence of failure to follow existing grant rules and regulations — often due to a lack of knowledge or awareness. In other instances, grantees may simply have poor management protocols in place that hinder their ability to comply with grant requirements. In these cases, technical assistance may be given to help a grantee correct a deficiency.

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