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Audit Audit of the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA)

The audit shows DALA lacks the staffing necessary to completely fulfill its responsibilities in a timely manner. The audit examined the period of July 1, 2017 through December 31, 2019.

Organization: Office of the State Auditor
Date published: April 7, 2021

Executive Summary

In accordance with Section 12 of Chapter 11 of the Massachusetts General Laws, the Office of the State Auditor has conducted a performance audit of certain activities of the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA) for the period July 1, 2017 through December 31, 2019. In this performance audit, we followed up on issues identified in our Audit Report No. 2014-0345-7S, which covered the period June 1, 2009 through September 30, 2013 and was issued September 23, 2015. In the prior audit, we found that DALA did not establish formal written policies and procedures for case-management activities; meet statutory reporting requirements for filing an annual report; develop a risk assessment or complete a compliant internal control plan (ICP); adopt internal controls to address case management; have a system to use feedback to improve itself; or conduct a review to assess the potential necessity, costs, and benefits of conducting hearings at other venues.

During our current audit, we found that DALA had developed a system for obtaining feedback on its performance and conducted hearings at alternative sites. The issues that still need improvement are developing written procedures and implementing controls for case management, completing a compliant ICP, and submitting a compliant annual report to the Legislature.

We also reviewed a February 2, 2018 audit report from the US Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs to determine what measures DALA’s management had taken to address the issues cited in that audit report. In addition, we determined whether DALA’s Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) administered its hearings in compliance with all applicable federal and state requirements for hearing timelines, including Section 615(c)(2) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 300.515 of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations, BSEA’s Hearing Rules for Special Education Appeals, and Section 28 of Title 603 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations.

Below is a summary of our findings and recommendations, with links to each page listed.

Finding 1
 

DALA does not have written policies and procedures for case-management activities.

Recommendation
 

DALA should develop written policies and procedures for all of its case-management activities.

Finding 2
 

DALA Does Not Have a Compliant ICP.

Recommendations
 

  1. The chief administrative magistrate should prioritize the completion of a compliant ICP by properly documenting the internal environment and a risk response that includes all aspects of DALA’s business operations.
  2. After completing the ICP, DALA should review and update it whenever significant changes occur in objectives, risks, management structure, or program scope, but at least annually.

Finding 3
 

DALA does not include all the required elements in its annual reports.

Recommendations
 

  1. DALA should record all the listed parties in Time Matters when there is more than one petitioner and/or respondent and include them in the annual report.
  2. DALA should specify in the report how cases were disposed of (decision, settlement, withdrawal, or dismissal).
  3. DALA should report the total number of simplified hearings in its annual report.
  4. DALA should report the length of time it takes to process each case.
  5. DALA should include in the report an explanation for all cases that require more than six months to resolve. 

Finding 4
 

BSEA hearing officers did not consistently document case postponements.

Recommendations
 

  1. BSEA should ensure that hearing officers are properly trained on documentation requirements.
  2. BSEA management should monitor case progress to ensure that hearing officers document all postponements.

Finding 5
 

BSEA hearing officers did not consistently document requests and orders to add days to hearing schedules.

Recommendations
 

  1. BSEA hearing officers should consistently use the Postponement Order Form for requesting and granting additional hearing days.
  2. BSEA should revise its Hearing Rules for Special Education Appeals to provide a process for requesting and granting additional days for a hearing once the hearing has already begun.
  3. BSEA should provide training to the hearing officers on the process for requesting and granting additional days for a hearing, including the use of the Postponement Order Form.

 

A PDF copy of the audit of the Division of Administrative Law Appeals is available here.

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