AUGUSTA — The state watchdog office will conduct a risk assessment at MaineHousing in the coming months following a directive issued by the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee.

The committee voted 7-3 Tuesday, with three Democrats in opposition, to direct the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to do a review of all operations at the agency. In addition, the committee added the state Office of Information Technology to the list of groups to be reviewed, said Beth Ashcroft, executive director of the program evaluation office.

Ashcroft she was given no specifics with regard to MaineHousing, nor was she presented with a list of concerns.

“It’s more in the arena of a large agency, quasi-independent, that doesn’t get the same level of scrutiny as other state agencies,” she said.

She described the review as a risk assessment that will look at operations, programs and finances at the agency. The MaineHousing review, and the one at the Office of Information Technology, will likely not begin in earnest until after the first of the year, Ashcroft said. Before they get to those reviews, the office needs to finish up an investigation of the Department of Education’s Child Development Services program and an analysis of how much the state spends per prisoner, she said.

Dale McCormick, executive director at MaineHousing, said her agency gets several federal reviews each year and has an internal auditor who reports directly to the MaineHousing Board of Commissioners each year. She said she is ready for the program evaluation review.

“I welcome it,” she said. “I think the more people know about what we do, the prouder they will be of what we do.”

MaineHousing has an annual operating budget of about $13 million and has 143 employees. They get $380,000 a year in state General Fund money and a portion of the real estate transfer tax, in addition to millions in federal money. The agency acts as a bank for affordable housing, as a public housing authority that manages 800 properties and as an administrator for 35 programs, McCormick said.

“We’re responding constantly to scrutiny,” she said, noting that her agency has a room set aside for the auditors who visit each year.

MaineHousing is one of several quasi-state agencies that will likely be eventually reviewed by the government oversight office, said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham. Following an extensive review of the Maine Turnpike Authority earlier this year, where toll money was found to have been spent on lavish dinners and international trips, the committee identified “a whole pool of agencies we should probably look at,” Diamond said.

But during Tuesday’s meeting, he heard no specific complaints or concerns expressed about MaineHousing, which led him to be one of the three Democrats who voted against the motion to put the agency on the list of reviews.

“It just seemed odd to me,” he said. “It was pulled out of the blue and put on the work agenda. There should be a reason for this. What was the reason for fishing this out of the middle?”

The agency has been challenged in recent months by the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, which held a press conference in July to complain that MaineHousing was overcharging for information that had to be compiled to respond to a Freedom of Access Act request. Earlier this month, the agency released salary data to the organization in response to a revised request for information.

Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, described Tuesday’s vote as a directive for a preliminary review because the agency handles a lot of money. Earlier this year, Republicans listed the auth-ority as a top priority for examination, but Democrats put it much lower on their lists, he said.

“We just examined (the turnpike authority) and found a significant amount of problems and I think maybe some people are gun shy,” he said. “No one should be afraid to look at anyone.”

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.