Rep. Murphey: Keeping audits free from political interference

Rep. Murphey: Keeping audits free from political interference

The power to appropriate money provides the Legislature with one of the strongest tools with which they exercise input over state agency conduct. In some respects, this is a role which makes the Legislature the most powerful branch of state government.

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Like all great powers, this power is sometimes abused, and in some particular cases, should be restrained.

A few years ago, I sponsored legislation to enact such a restraint.

Specifically, the bill proposed that funding for the State Auditor’s performance audit operation should be freed from legislative appropriation and be responsible directly to the State Auditor. The legislation attempted to place the performance audit concept into the Oklahoma Constitution where it would be most free from political influence.

Performance audits may make many politicians uncomfortable because they tend to shine a bright light on the failure of state government to perform efficiently, and they can reveal a large number of state government processes that are very vulnerable to corruption.

Currently, the Auditor can conduct these audits at the request of the Governor, the Legislature, or the head of an agency. As you might image, it is highly unlikely that agency officials from a poorly performing agency would ever request the Auditor to audit their agency.

That said, there is some precedence which proves the value of this concept.

I sponsored the proposal after the Governor authorized a performance audit of the state-owned Grand River Dam Authority. That audit brought to light a number of concerning details and questioned the method by which millions of dollars were being spent. Specifically, the audit found that a volatile environment existed within the GRDA that increased exposure to fraud, waste and abuse.

An excellent example for proving the value of such an audit can be illustrated with the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City. Since state leaders were repeatedly asked to approve debt for the Center, I found the performance audit of that agency to be helpful in documenting the horrible waste and abuse of past debt issuance for that purpose. I could never determine if anyone was held accountable for those abuses, but the audit did reinforce my decision to not vote for additional debt issuance.

It is important for the Legislature to give the Auditor both the authority to audit an agency but also to provide the funding mechanism to conduct the audits. This would enable the Auditor’s office to conduct a series of performance audits each year instead of the occasional audit at the request of a public official. It would also give the office a dependable revenue stream for conducting several audits at one time.

These audits would serve as the inspiration for legislation that I believe would result in significant savings to Oklahoma taxpayers. The direct savings would no doubt be many times higher than the cost of the audit. The indirect savings would also be significant because I believe state officials would modify their agency’s procedures to eliminate inefficiencies due to the fact that they could be audited at any time.

I have no doubt that the implementation of these audits and ensuing legislation will prove transformative to state government.

Unfortunately, our performance audit proposal was not successful. Too many legislators had formed the opinion that the State Auditor was too political and they feared giving him the ability to conduct performance audits at his discretion.

With the impending election of a new Auditor within the next two years, perhaps legislators will reconsider this important reform and hopefully it will advance to the benefit of taxpayers.

Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.

Sincerely,

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