Guest Post: The Legislature’s Appropriate Role in Overseeing State Audits

"The Pioneer Family" stands in front of the North Dakota State Capitol on July 14, 2016, in Bismarck. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

This guest post was submitted by Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, a Republican from Dickinson.

The legislature has been challenged on its oversight of the State Auditor’s Office and the time has come to set the record straight. 

This entire debate started when the North Dakota State Auditor requested 11 additional staff members. To better understand why such a large increase was warranted, the legislature gave the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee (LAFRC) the ability to review and approve the Auditor’s pursuit of performance audits. We did so to better understand the request, how performance audits impact the auditor’s primary duty of fiscal audits and judge the need for additional funding and Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) positions. Keep in mind, performance audits account for only a small fraction of the audits conducted by the auditor’s office.

This action by the legislature was wholly appropriate and necessary. The North Dakota State Constitution states that the powers and duties of the State Auditor come from the legislature.  Therefore, the legislature has oversight of the auditor and makes decisions on staff requests, length of audits and the quality of all audits including performance audits.  The audits are critical to the legislature, because the audits help the legislature make sound policy.

The North Dakota State Constitution and Century Code clearly defines that the auditor works at the discretion of the legislature. 

Article V of the North Dakota Constitution Section 2 states:  The qualified electors of the state at the times and places of choosing members of the legislative assembly shall choose an Auditor along with all the other statewide offices.  The powers and duties of all statewide offices including the auditor must be prescribed by law.

Century Code Statue 54-10-01 states The state auditor shall be vested with the duties, powers and responsibilities involved in performing the post audit of all financial transactions of the state government, detecting and reporting any defaults and determining that expenditures have been made in accordance with law and appropriation acts.

The State Auditor is a fact finder, makes recommendations, and presents the findings to LAFRC.  The auditor does not have enforcement powers, because those powers belong to the legislature and the Attorney General.

The legislature needs quality information to make informed decisions when making state policy. Therefore, the legislature is vested in the number of FTEs, length of audits, quality of performance audits and oversight into the auditing process. 

The goal of audits is to use the resources of the State of North Dakota to their fullest potential.  To accomplish this goal, the legislature and auditor need to work together to make the auditing process effective, efficient and focused on the greatest opportunities and challenges.

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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