Highlights from the audit committee

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The Legislative Audit Committee met last month to hear performance and financial audits on several agencies of state government. This committee was written into the Montana Constitution 50 years ago to make sure the taxpayers were getting good government with efficiencies and taxpayer savings through the process.

Some of the reports had no recommendations which is always good for the agency. They show up to hear the presentation and introduce themselves to members during their agenda time while others are questioned by members on findings in the report.

Some of the highlights for recommendations included:

Montana University System — enforcing a process for transfer students to make it easier; maintain common course numbers in the university system; further develop shared services goals so taxpayers aren’t spending money in duplication; establishing an information technology governance policy.

Office of Commissioner of Higher Education—seven recommendations is the most I’ve seen for this office. I called it an embarrassment since they’ve had a 10 percent increase in funding in five years. Commissioner Clayton Christian answered pointed questions from members during the hearing. I noted that the extra nights and money spent for November meetings prior to the Bobcat/Griz football games are ones the taxpayers shouldn’t have to swallow. The morning meetings had less than an hour’s worth of business. Shameful. I hope more taxpayers will attend future meetings when they come to a campus near you. We need more involvement and interest, not just writing the check to pay the bills and never asking questions.

Montana Prescription Drug Registry — Board of Pharmacy is in charge but the auditors found a lack of oversight to use the registry properly. The audit team was kept from information for eight months in performing this audit, very unacceptable for the Department of Labor and Industry on such a critical issue. The prescription drug and opioid crisis makes headlines daily across our state and nation. It’s time we stop talking about it and actually do something. Nine audit findings are enough for legislators to take notice and put some requirements into law. We can’t wait. Doctor shopping, prescriptions obtained across three states, and possible fraud, are big enough issues to have our attention.

Secretary of State — use of a state-leased vehicle was inappropriate for commuting though the deputy explained it was for outreach and telework. This explanation was not acceptable to many members though we were happy that the vehicle has been returned to motor pool; identify office relationships and make sure the segregation of duties are done.

Office of Commissioner of Political Practices — six audit findings, mostly because of lack of staff at one of the smallest offices of state government; Commissioner Mangan assured us that they would reach out to Financial Services Division to correct errors made in the past. We trust he will.

Unmanned Aircraft Oversight — state agencies and the university system have been purchasing drones for many types of work and experiments; auditors found there was no plan across state government for this emerging technology. Recommendations included a cost-benefit analysis before purchasing more, designate aircraft oversight and reporting, ensure privacy and security as a main priority and work with state IT Services to develop a policy. The governor’s office agreed with the five recommendations and will be forming an advisory council to put these in place.

Legislative Audit will meet every few months to hear more about the operations of state government. You can watch the hearings at the leg.mt.gov website.

Dee Brown, Senate District 2

Newly-elected Chair, Legislative Audit Committee

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