CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has lauded the introduction of a bill that would require all state agencies, departments and offices to undergo regular reviews and audits to ensure they are operating as intended.
Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, plans to introduce the bill in the House of Delegates within the next few days. Other sponsors likely will include Delegates Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan; Michael Folk, Eric Householder and John Overington, all R-Berkeley. Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, has expressed a willingness to introduce a similar bill in the Senate.
“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,” Morrisey said in a press release. “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.”
Earlier this year, an audit of an agri-business loan program found suspicious activities about how loans were awarded, the amount of collateral required, and who received the loans. Lawmakers turned over information from the audit to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“This should not be a Democrat versus Republican issue,” Espinosa said in the release. “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.”
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 to be made public and requires the Legislature to review their effectiveness, including identified savings, every four years.
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.
“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,” Espinosa said. “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 allowing 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.
“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, mismanage or misallocated,” Morrisey said. “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.”