An Oregon Secretary of State’s Office audit found 16 areas where Oregon fell short in transparency of the budget of the Department of Administrative Services. Changes, auditors said, would better ensure tax dollars are being used wisely.
While its language was polite, DAS pushed back. It agreed with 12 of the 16 recommendations auditors made. It also only partially agreed with two and failed to take a position on the other two.
They were inappropriate responses to the audit, and the secretary of state and governor may need to take further action.
Among the points auditors made that DAS objected to in all or in part:
— The state’s transparency website, established in 2009, doesn’t meet its mission to allow taxpayers to track how tax dollars are spent. That may be reflected in the fact that the average stay on the transparency website is just 37 seconds. Auditors recommend that DAS ask the Legislature to increase the amount available to spend on the website to improve its ease of use, though DAS failed to make clear whether it will do so or not.
— State agencies tend to rush to spend unused money before the end of each biennium, in part because leaders fear they’ll not get the money they need next time if they have a carryover. That could leave to unwise use of tax dollars, and auditors recommend that DAS work with the Legislative Fiscal Office and others to come up with policies designed to mitigate or eliminate potential problems, and put those policies in place.
While DAS agreed to work to create policies, it balked at agreeing to putting them in place in a timely fashion. As auditors noted in a letter to DAS about its lukewarm acceptance of the audit, failure to adopt the policies “clouds accountability and transparency.”
— Agencies also “double-fill” positions, hiring more than one person for a single job, auditors found. That may be good reasons for doing that sometimes, but DAS has failed to use its human resources information system to provide lawmakers and others with better information about how those double-fill positions are actually being used.
Auditors do have tools to help them make their point. The secretary of state has the authority to ask the governor to withhold the salary of DAS’ chief executive, currently Katy Coba, though she cannot force the governor to do so.
DAS cannot be allowed to ignore the advice of auditors whose only goal is to improve the way it operates and transparency for Oregonians. If it drags its feet on putting suggested improvements in place, the secretary of state should ask the governor to take action.