CHARLESTON — A bill to help eliminate waste, fraud and abuse and provide greater transparency and accountability in state government was introduced in the House of Delegates today. The bill, H.B. 4466, was sponsored by Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, and would require all state agencies, departments, and offices to undergo regular reviews and audits to insure they are operating as intended. The bill calls for full performance evaluations of every state agency every two years if practicable, but no less than every four years. The bill also requires all completed audits and reviews be made public and requires the Legislature to review their effectiveness and identify any savings created as a result of the audit recommendations.
The impetus for this bill was an audit of the Rural Rehabilitation Loan Program released earlier this year which found suspicious activities with regard to how loans were awarded, the amount of collateral required, who received the loans, and a high delinquency rate with no effort to collect payment. Lawmakers have turned information from the audit over to the U. S. Attorney’s Office.
“This should not be a Democrat versus Republican issue,” Delegate Espinosa said. “I believe every lawmaker should be in favor of ensuring state agencies and offices are doing their job, following the law and spending taxpayer money wisely.” Espinosa continued, “I understand that a request of this magnitude will place a heavy burden on the Legislative Auditor’s Office and staff, which is why I think it is important for them to know that they can reach out to others for help. However, I don’t think we should avoid doing audits just because of staffing or manpower concerns. Citizens must feel as though they can trust their government to act wisely and prudently, and regular reviews and audits of agencies are a key way to build that trust.”
The bill also includes a provision which would allow the Legislative Auditor’s Office to collect fees to cover the cost of the audit or review from the state agency, department or office being reviewed. The fees would only cover the actual cost of conducting the audit.
Delegate Espinosa introduced the bill in the House of Delegates with co-sponsors: Delegates Eric Householder, R-Berkeley; Joe Ellington, R-Mercer; Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer; Steve Westfall, R-Jackson; Michael Folk, R-Berkeley; John Overington, R-Berkeley; Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan; J.B. McCuskey, R-Kanawha; Gary Howell, R-Mineral; and Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio.
The bill gives the Legislative Auditor’s Office the ability to seek assistance on the preliminary performance reviews, full performance evaluations and post audits from the Attorney General’s Office or an independent, certified public accountant.
“Citizens should know that taxpayer-funded state departments and offices, as well as the Legislature and Board of Public Works, are undergoing regular reviews to ensure that any fraud, waste, or abuse is stamped out,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “This legislation will provide greater transparency and accountability in state government. If more oversight had been in place, we likely would not have seen the type of financial mismanagement that arose in the Department of Agriculture audit. While everyone’s budget is tight in this day and age, I believe regular audits would help ensure money is being spent in the right place, rather than be misused, mismanaged or misallocated. We need to put protections in place to guard our state against the type of troubling activities and management practices that we have seen with the Department of Agriculture’s agri-business loan program.”