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Audit challenges: Departmental obstruction

We’ve been thinking a lot about the challenges faced by government auditors, as we prepare to give a talk to the 2017 Mid-America Intergovernmental Audit Forum later this week.

One of the issues we’ll be discussing is the lack of cooperation government auditors sometimes get from the departments they’re auditing.  The obstacles they confront include delays in getting necessary documents, the refusal by departments to share information, and controls placed on auditors’ access to departmental employees. As we wrote in a Governing column in September, California’s auditor Elaine Howle believes this kind of audit interference is becoming more common. “We’ve had to fight these battles more and more,” she told us.

In general, these are the kinds of problems that are not picked up by reporters, so we were somewhat startled to see a number of recent examples in our Google searches this week.

In New Jersey, for example, an audit that was scheduled for release in the summer is still in progress. The reason? According to a November 30th article in Route 40, which supplies South Jersey news and information, the holdup stems from delays in getting requested documents from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

We saw another example in Louisiana, where the auditor’s office has asked for records from the medical examiner’s office, which is seeking the opinion of a Baton Rouge judge as to whether it should refuse to comply based on doctor-patient confidentiality laws . The auditor there told The Advocate in Baton Rouge,  “They feel like they can’t give us the records. We feel like the law is on our side.”

Then there’s the situation in Montgomery County, Tennessee, where the county audit committee issued a letter of reprimand last week against a county trustee for refusing to comply with the auditor’s request for public records.

Coming back to California, in mid-November the UC Board of Regents published its investigation of alleged university obstruction of an audit that was released in April.  The investigation found that top aides to UC president Janet Napolitano had examined audit responses submitted from high-level officials in the university system and had moved to have answers modified. An editorial in the L.A. Times on Saturday said the aides, who have since resigned,  “engaged in egregious interference, telling campuses to omit or temper their criticisms of the president’s office.”


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