Burgum Signs Bill Gutting Auditor’s Office Authority Saying It Will Save Money

North Dakota Auditor Josh Gallion

In the closing days of the Legislative sessions state lawmakers amended the budget bill for the Auditor’s Office to include language effectively gutting that office’s authority to conduct performance audits.

Those audits must now be approved by the Legislature or its audit committee.

Today Governor Doug Burgum announced that he had signed the remaining bills from the 2019 session, and while he did issue one more veto, it wasn’t of this language in the auditor’s budget as some (including me) had hoped.

Burgum’s office sent me a statement from the governor explaining his veto. Here it is, in full:

“Nothing in this bill hinders the auditor’s primary duty under state law: to conduct regular financial audits of state agencies to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being utilized appropriately. The bill also expands the number of authorized full-time equivalent employees in the Auditor’s Office to 58 and increases authorized expenditures by over $1.3 million.

“This bill allows the auditor to pursue performance audits with approval from the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee, to whom the auditor routinely presents audit reports. The committee’s meetings are public, and members will be accountable for decisions to approve or deny performance audits.

“The Legislature’s action represents a reasonable check on potentially burdensome costs to agencies for performance audits, to ensure that general fund dollars aren’t being redirected to performance audits and away from initiatives for which the Legislature has appropriated funds.

“The Governor’s Office had previously vetoed SB 2055, which is referenced in this bill, and made clear our position on legislative overreach. That position has not changed.

“Senate Bill 2004 had overwhelming bipartisan support. It passed unanimously in the Senate and was approved by a majority of Republicans and every Democrat in the House.”

With all due respect to Governor Burgum, who campaigned for his current office as someone who would take the “good old boys” to task, this is a weak justification.

While the auditor can still do financial audits as before, it’s the performance audits which typically uncover the biggest problems in state government. Telling the public that the auditor’s ability to initiate those audits must be reined in because they’re too costly is a more than a bit of a stretch. Especially absent any real evidence that the auditor has been causing an undue amount of expense with his audits.

I get that the state’s bureaucrats don’t particularly like being audited – who would? – but to the extent that the cost of audit compliance is a problem, butting the auditor in a box is hardly the solution.

Burgum justifying this move as bipartisan is also worthy of an eye roll.

Is anyone surprised that politicians would find common cause with one another when it comes to curtailing the powers of the state’s chief enforcer of accountability and transparency?

Shame on the Legislature for passing this legislation.

Shame on Burgum for signing it into law.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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