Letter to the Inspector General Calling for An Immediate Audit of the Independent Living Administration

The Honorable Daniel R. Levinson
US Department of Health and Human Services
Office of Inspector General
ATTN: OIG HOTLINE OPERATIONS
PO Box 23489
Washington, DC 20026

Dear Inspector General Levinson,

We are writing to request that the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conduct an audit of the Independent Living Program and the legal oversight responsibilities being neglected by the Independent Living Administration (ILA) within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), specifically in regard to contractor and grantee compliance with the laws governing America’s Independent Living Program.

The Independent Living Program is primarily regulated by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (reauthorized in 2013 as part of the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act – WIOA). Federal law requires the Independent Living Administration to provide oversight of the IL Program by conducting onsite reviews of 15% of America’s 337+ Centers for Independent Living annually.

WIOA created an Independent Living Administration within ACL. Previously, oversight of the IL Program was provided through the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) within the Department of Education. In 2012, the Department of Education Office of the Inspector General issued audit findings (Attachment 1) that concluded RSA was not fulfilling its legal obligations to the public. The OIG made the following findings:

  • “We found that RSA had not provided adequate monitoring and oversight of the CILs. We also found that the Section 704 Annual Performance Reports for Centers for Independent Living Program (704 Reports) were not fully supported by the documentation available at the CILs reviewed and that consumer service and other records did not contain the documentation required by the program regulations.”
  • “As a result of the inadequate monitoring and oversight, partially supported performance reports and inadequately documented files, (the Rehabilitation Services Administration) did not have sufficient, accurate information to provide required oversight of the grant programs at the CILs reviewed… Appropriate oversight is essential to ensuring that the program goals are met.”

The OIG issued a corrective action plan, but it was too late. Because the IL Unit at RSA had refused to fulfill its legal obligations for decades, plans were already underway to remove the IL Unit from RSA’s purview. We – the Independent Living community – believed that the creation of an Independent Living Administration would put an end to this long-standing problem. As of the date of reauthorization, the CILs reviewed are no longer required to be selected randomly, which allows the ILA greater flexibility to review CILs that are clearly demonstrating non-compliance with the law. Unfortunately, we continue to experience the same problems the OIG identified and ordered corrected in 2012. Specifically:

  • Like RSA, the ILA relies on narrow and unsupported interpretations of the Rehabilitation Act in order to avoid its responsibilities. This is causing significant harm to the Independent Living Program nationwide and specifically in Michigan.
  • The IL Unit within the Independent Living Administration is not conducting appropriate oversight of Michigan Centers for Independent Living (CILs) and the Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC), collectively known as Disability Network/Michigan.
  • Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living are not providing the core services required by law and are not meeting long-standing compliance indicators.
  • The ILA has made public statements that indicate they intend to decrease monitoring activities instead of working towards compliance with the law.
  • No formal complaint process for CILs and SILCs exist and IL Specialists within the Independent Living Administration are unreachable for years end; IL Specialist Job Descriptions (Attachment 2) have not been updated in over 12 years despite major revisions to the law governing the Independent Living Program; and IL Specialists are refusing to perform the duties listed in their job descriptions.
  • The ILA is relying on unverified assertions of compliance and is not conducting monitoring activities. ILA does not terminate grants for non-compliance with the Rehabilitation Act, even when non-compliance is demonstrated by the public. ILA staff members openly admit that oversight is only provided in the case of financial misconduct.

Our request to you follows the receipt of an unacceptable response from the Independent Living Administration dated June 1, 2017 (Attachment 3), which failed to address substantial questions raised over the course of years. Despite assurances to the contrary, the ILA does not appear to have conducted any meaningful investigation of the serious allegations raised by consumers or any assessment of its internal practices or procedures; any audits or other meaningful oversight of its grantees with regard to compliance. To the contrary, the ILA seems to be arguing that it is legally and ethically unable to fulfill its responsibilities.

The ILA’s response contains several statements that the ILA knows to be false. Those false statements are outlined in my response (Attachment 4). The ILA’s response makes a broad declaration of compliance of Michigan’s entire IL Program without any review of Michigan’s Statewide Independent Living Council and 14 Centers for Independent Living beyond the 704 Reports. It is obvious that the minimal oversight activity conducted was undertaken with the objective to support a declaration of compliance regardless of the available evidence.

Michigan CILs are now controlled by the state despite federal law requiring that CILs must be designed and operated by local disability communities. The ILA is fully aware that Michigan CILs are submitting falsified data in their 704 Reports with the assistance of the state. In addition to complaints directly from Michigan citizens, all federal evidence collected over the past several decades supports the conclusion that Michigan CILs are falsifying 704 Report data and not providing the core services as required by law:

  • In 2012, the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Education evaluated the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living and found that improper documentation violated several laws surrounding fiscal misconduct and reporting requirements (Attachment 1).
  • In 2013, the Rehabilitation Services Administration performed an onsite review of Disability Advocates of Kent County (Grand Rapids CIL) and found that: DAKC did not properly maintain Consumer Service Records (CSRs); did not meet consumer control requirements because individuals with disabilities did not constitute more than 50 percent of DAKC’s employees in decision-making positions; had not established three-year program and financial planning objectives; and did not meet all prescribed standards for financial management systems (Attachment 5).
  • In 2014, Disability Network/Wayne County (Detroit CIL) was sued by the EEOC for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to accommodate a deaf employee.

Nevertheless, the ILA relies on a declaration of compliance from the state – the very entity that has illegally taken control of Michigan CILs. At this point, the ILA is participating in a cover-up of fraudulent activities on the part of Michigan CILs in order to excuse themselves from their responsibilities.

I urge you to please investigate these issues. Michiganders with disabilities are suffering without access to functioning Centers for Independent Living, despite having an Independent Living Program that is Congressionally-mandated and fully-funded by taxpayers.

Thank you very much for your time. Please do not hesitate to reach out if I can provide you with any further information. My contact information is included below. More information on the consumer-driven campaign to bring Michigan Centers for Independent Living into compliance with the law is available at www.peeractionalliance.com

Eleanor Canter
Consumer / Citizen
Peer Action Alliance
Muskegon, MI
eleanorcanter@yahoo.com

Co-Signatories: Joe Harcz (Mount Morris, MI); Darma Canter (Muskegon, MI); Brian Dian (Muskegon, MI)

  • ATTACHMENT 1 – Office of the Inspector General, Department of Education Audit Report
  • ATTACHMENT 2 – IL Specialist Job Description
  • ATTACHMENT 3 – ILA Response to Public Concerns
  • ATTACHMENT 4 – Public Response to False Statements by the ILA
  • ATTACHMENT 5 – RSA Compliance Review Report of Disability Advocates of Kent County
  • ATTACHMENT 6 – Fraudulent Report Submitted by the State of Michigan to the ILA
  • ATTACHMENT 7 – WIOA Final Rule for CILs
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