An independent audit of the Frederick County sheriff’s agreements with the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is needed now even more than before. The Frederick News-Post called for an audit a year ago, after an annual 287(g) Steering Committee meeting, in the June 24, 2017, editorial “An idea worth trying.” Since then, the more community members learn about the ICE agreements, the more they want answers to serious questions.
In response to calls for such an audit, the county’s Internal Audit Division (IAD) has issued a memorandum addressed to the sheriff. The memorandum focuses in a very limited way on one of the two ICE agreements, the Intergovernmental Service Agreement to house ICE detainees from around the region.
At the sheriff’s annual 287(g) Steering Committee meeting on June 13, the sheriff touted this memorandum as evidence rebutting claims that his agreement with ICE is costing the local taxpayer, even as the review failed to support the sheriff’s claim that it costs $16.68 a day to house ICE detainees in the county’s Adult Detention Center.
This memorandum has actually muddied the waters, raising more questions than it answered, some of which could prove even more costly to the taxpayer.
Several points are worth noting. The memorandum states “The procedures and work performed by the IAD constitutes a non-attest engagement and does not fall under the guidance of Government Auditing Standards.” Non-attest is defined as an engagement where independence is not required. Salaries and budgets for the “Internal Audit Division” are controlled by the county, making this a true “internal” review, not the independent and objective audit that has been called for.
The memorandum may have opened up a new can of worms for the sheriff, the county and the taxpayer. The memorandum claims the actual cost of housing ICE detainees is $53.25 per day, which differs significantly from the sheriff’s estimate of $16.68. ICE is currently reimbursing $83 per day.
The memorandum also rightly points out that per the U.S. Office of Management Budget Circular A-87, “only allowable costs may be funded.” Allowable costs are generally actual reimbursable costs for which there is no surplus or profit to the local government entity. The ICE agreement states “The Service Provider shall not charge for cost, which are not directly related to the housing and detention of detainees.” So, if ICE is reimbursing the county at $83.00 per detainee per day, and the allowable cost is $53.25 per day, what’s happening to the remaining $29.75 per detainee per day?
During my tenure with the Department of Justice, at one point I worked on resolving audit recommendations where there were findings of overpayment to local law enforcement agencies. The remedy was to return the money to the federal government, a result that was rarely popular with local governments. Could Frederick County be at risk of having to return a significant amount of money to the federal treasury — possibly millions of dollars?
I have been made to understand that the Internal Audit Division’s memorandum has been forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. So we may get that independent objective audit after all. It is only through transparency and an honest review that our community can determine the value of these agreements and the actual cost to taxpayers.
Democratic candidate for Frederick County sheriff