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Documents reveal mismanagement at state agency that prepares disabled Georgians for workforce

ATLANTA — Documents obtained by WSB’s Channel 2 reveal the extent of the mismanagement at the state agency whose mission is to help tens of thousands of disabled Georgians prepare for the workforce. Investigative reporter Richard Belcher says the mismanagement itself is not a surprise, but this is our first look at the specifics.

WSBTV dug into the extensive problems at the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) right before the pandemic hit in early 2020, and they reported on the appointment of a new director later that year, so we knew the state agency was badly run. Now we’ve seen the actual findings from Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), the federal agency that pays most of the bills. And we’ve seen Georgia’s plan to dig out of the mess.

“GVRA had some major issues,” says Jesse Morton, a forensic accountant and certified fraud examiner. He reviewed the problems identified by RSA in a report issued a year ago. He also analyzed GVRA’s recovery plan laid out in a dense 30-page report Channel 2 obtained through Georgia’s open records law. Morton is blunt: “Essentially the auditors indicated that there were no internal controls.”

We know from the individual complaints of Georgians who are entitled to GVRA training and educational benefits that a lot of clients are unhappy with the services provided by GVRA. Just three weeks ago, WSBTV reported on complaints from blind or sight-impaired Georgians who are among the most outspoken.

Cecily Nipper said, “The first counselor that I encountered under GVRA knew very little about vision loss at all and knew very little about how to manage my case. I’m now on my third counselor with GVRA. They’ve lost my paperwork three times.”

Jesse Morton isn’t surprised to hear GVRA has unhappy clients based on what he read about the agency’s lack of adequate controls over operations and finances. “Really there were questions about how funds were being allocated and whether certain funds were even spent appropriately,” Morton told Belcher.

Morton also notes that auditors uncovered major problems with two GVRA contracts. One had to be completely revised to meet federal standards. The other was in effect a handshake agreement, because GVRA didn’t even have a legally executed agreement with the vendor.

“It (the previously agreement) expired, and the agency did not go back and renew the contract, so there were really no terms or conditions or agreement that was in place,” Morton says.

The encouraging news is that Morton says some problems have been “fully resolved” since Washington put the state on notice last year, and he says it looks like GVRA is making “significant progress” in correcting the remaining problems. However, in Morton’s view, the progress is slow because “the issues that were identified were pretty major so there was an overhaul that had to be done.”

“Here we are about a year later and while there is being progress made, there are still a majority of the issues (in the audit) that are open,” Morton said.

GVRA has also been distracted by scandals in the past nine months. Former communications director Robin Folsom pleaded guilty to false statements after she was caught faking pregnancies to get extra state benefits. And a former counselor pleaded guilty in federal court to making up fake clients to steal $1.3 million in tuition benefits.

GVRA did not provide a statement or anyone to answer questions.

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