Auditor: MN Firefighter Training Board Violated Financial Requirements

March 29, 2024
A report from the Legislative Auditor's Office made 11 recommendations to the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education.

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota board that oversees firefighter training violated requirements to document expenses and made improper use of state purchasing cards, according to a Legislative Auditor's report released this week.

The Legislative Auditor's Office listed 11 findings and recommendations in its 37-page report on the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education, and also found issues with the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the firefighter board.

According to the audit, conducted between July 2020 and December 2022, the firefighter board "generally did not comply with the significant finance-related legal requirements we tested and generally did not have adequate internal controls." The most significant issues regarded receipts, trainings and aid reimbursements, the report said.

Board Chair Natascha Huspek said in an email that the board takes the findings seriously. "We look forward to working with the Department of Public Safety on implementing the necessary changes to address the findings in the report," Huspek said.

In the report, auditors said the board's employees improperly used state purchasing cards, most commonly used to cover the cost of travel for business purposes. To obtain a card, applicants must sign a use agreement and complete training every three years on how to use the cards.

But two board employees did not renew their agreements, and Public Safety officials did not make them take the refresher training course, auditors said. One cardholder had a use agreement that expired in 2017, and another's expired in 2018.

One employee collected hotel rewards with the purchasing card, which the state does not allow. The employee used the card for 21 hotel stays that cost about $4,500 in total. The audit found the stays were business-related.

A few of the findings involved lack of sufficient documentation for expenses such as overtime and travel reimbursements. Instead of keeping a written record of overtime approvals, supervisors told auditors they would approve overtime verbally, during meetings and phone calls, or in emails that were not kept. The audit found there were no procedures in place for administrators to verify that mileage logged in monthly reports was for business purposes.

During the audit period, the board paid one employee $8,275 and another employee $1,905 for overtime. The auditors could not determine if the employees were eligible for that overtime because of the lack of documentation.

The report says the board failed to document whether employees were eligible for paid COVID-19 leave. The board paid $1,537 in COVID leave during the audit.

Auditors also found that the board reimbursed fire departments for training courses without getting documentation on who provided the trainings and their qualifications. Auditors found 21 reimbursements, amounting to about $31,500, that did not properly identify the trainer. In those cases, the firefighter board "either knew or assumed who the instructor was based on invoices submitted."

In August, an audit report found that the Public Safety Department "did not adequately manage" a grant for a program intended to help firefighters cope with trauma and illness.

Last month, a consulting firm found that the Shakopee Fire Department had glaring deficiencies involving management, training and staffing levels. That investigation was prompted by a request from interim Fire Chief Mike Scott, who was hired by the city last July.


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