MINDEN, Nev. — A federal auditor is recommending that $2.7 million in recovery act grant funds received by the Nevada Fire Safe Council be paid back, and the council not receive any more grants until new policies are in place.
Auditors received a hotline complaint in July 2011 that the council responsible for funding various fuels reductions projects in Nevada and the Lake Tahoe area was not conducting fair bids when hiring contractors to do work related to the recovery act, according to a report.
“Our review of the complaint concluded that the council had awarded contracts associated with the recovery act grant in a noncompetitive manner,” auditors said.
While investigating the complaint, auditors found the council did not properly account for grant funds awarded by the U.S. Forest Service, which included a $3.6 million recovery act grant and $6.2 million in a grant that was not related to the recovery act.
“Funds from these and other federal grants were commingled with the council’s own funds and used to pay unauthorized expenses,” auditors said. “Federal regulations prohibit the commingling of federal grand funds with funds from other sources, and require grant recipients to maintain separate accounting over grant funds to ensure the funds are used for authorized purposes only.”
Auditors said council Executive Director Andrew List was handling all aspects of transactions instead of having accounting segregated.
“We also found that the council was routinely requesting reimbursements for expenses it had not yet paid,” the report said. “Finally, we found that the council had not been audited as required by federal regulations since 2006.”
List told auditors he wasn’t aware of the requirements in the grant. Auditors said they could only obtain limited information from List about the grant accounting because he left the council shortly after they began their review.
While auditors said so far they’re only questioning the $2.7 million from the recovery act, they’ve yet to audit the nonrecovery grant.
“We thought we were doing everything appropriately,” List told The Associated Press. “The Forest Service had a duty to look at everything that was processed and OK it for payment.”
List said he voluntarily left the job last year.
“As far as I know we spent the money on appropriate projects,” he said.
The Nevada Fire Safe Council consists of about 130 local groups that work to reduce fire danger by eliminating dead brush near homes. Douglas County is home to dozens of chapters that have used grant money to clear tons of brush from around homes near the wildland.