The hot topic resulting from the concluding days of the 66th Legislative Session stems from the fact that the Legislature stripped the State Auditor of his authority to initiate performance audits. This was done through a conference committee amendment. And despite calls for him to line item veto the power grab, Governor Doug Burgum signed it into law anyhow.
The move is troubling on a number of levels. Aside from the fact that not a single Senator voted against gutting the Auditor’s office, there’s also little question that the amendment came as political retribution for a job well done by our current State Auditor, Josh Gallion. In fact, the Associated Press published an article today in which Rep. Keith Kempenich (R – District 39) admitted as much:
“A lot of legislators started having some issues with the way things were going and wanted to reel him in.”
This is exactly the problem I have with this move by the Legislature. I frankly don’t care that they have “some issues” with Gallion. The reality is that we elected him to do a job — to be a champion of accountability and transparency — and it seems to me that he’s actually doing it. The AP also noted in their article that:
“Gallion has completed five performance audits since 2017 and ordered a sixth — a rate slightly more than double that of the years 2004 to 2016, when 13 audits were completed, according to figures on the auditor’s website.”
But what bothers these legislators more, the fact that Gallion is being aggressive in the number of audits his office is performing? Or the manner in which he’s going public with the results? I’d suggest that it’s the latter. Again, from the AP:
“Gallion is more aggressive about publicizing the findings of audits, issuing press releases and using social media to disclose findings, which hadn’t been done before.”
This might explain an earlier statement by Rep. Kempenich in which he told the AP that:
“This isn’t how these things are supposed to go… It isn’t supposed to embarrass people.”
Without question, Kempenich is wrong. According to Gallion, in the last year alone, his office has found $77 million in financial errors. I’d say that’s worthy of embarrassment— though Gallion admits that’s not his motivation.
Yet, in spite of this, Governor Burgum sees the power grab as “a reasonable check on potentially burdensome costs to agencies for performance audits.” Seriously? He should be embarrassed that he ever said such a thing. It’s an asinine statement that indicates he expects less audits as a result of the legislation. Would any rational person want fewer audits when Gallion’s office has discovered the things that they have? It simply defies logic.
In my opinion, Josh Gallion is being the people’s watchdog— which is exactly what we elected him to be. Stripping his authority to initiate these audits is not only an attack on the fundamental ideals of accountability and transparency, but it’s a slap in the face to the people of North Dakota. We need to rally behind our State Auditor and send a message to the legislators who supported this — and Governor Burgum who signed it — that we won’t tolerate it.
It seems to me that Josh Gallion is the last person in Bismarck that needs to be reeled in.
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