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Improper funding of contracts, inconsistencies in grant management and alarming violations of health and safety requirements were reported Tuesday by Daniel J. Levinson, inspector general of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Speaking before the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Levinson told subcommittee members that among what he described as “alarming violations” were toxic chemicals and even a machete within reach of children at Head Start centers. Levinson’s testimony focused on five challenges his department faces.

“My office continues to find vulnerabilities relating to weak passwords, outdated software, and patch management that could allow unauthorized access to HHS systems and sensitive data,” Levinson told subcommittee members in prepared remarks. “We have also raised concerns about HHS’s oversight of hospitals’ network security.”

In written testimony before the subcommittee, Levinson said that his office reported that some HHS laptops belonging to the department “lacked whole disk encryption, which (puts) data at risk if laptops are lost or stolen.”

Levinson also said the OIG is assessing security controls over the data to be transmitted through the Data Services Hub being developed by HHS for the Health Insurance Exchanges. Furthermore, according to his testimony, “the security and integrity of healthcare providers’ systems and data are essential to protect patient privacy, prevent and detect fraud, and improve quality of care.”

“(The) OIG … has also noted the lack of general information technology (IT) security controls that would protect sensitive health data,” Levinson said. “Health IT holds promise of benefits for patients and providers; however, continued oversight is needed to guard against misuses that could result in improper payments or poor quality of care.”

Levinson in his testimony also singled out three programs for reporting $500 million in improper payments in 2012. The three agencies, according to Levinson, were foster care, childcare development and Head Start.

“The challenge remains to further reduce improper payments and report an error rate for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, as required,” Levinson wrote.

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Chuck Buck is the publisher of RACmonitor.

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Chuck Buck

Chuck Buck is the publisher of RACmonitor and is the program host and executive producer of Monitor Monday.

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