|State Auditor Says Oversight is Key To Public Trust|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
11:18AM / Wednesday, February 26, 2014
|Auditor Suzanne Bump was the keynote speaker at Wednesday's Good New Business Salute, organized by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.|
Suzannne Bump is advocating for oversight money be coupled with the funding for any state program.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Auditor Suzanne Bump says accountability isn't owning up to mistakes, but rather stopping mistakes before they happen.
The Great Barrington resident spoke at the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce's Good New Business Salute on Wednesday morning when she advocated for more oversight of government programs.
It is the steady drip, drip, drip of accounts of chronic deficiencies in management of resources and projects.
Bump says "if you can't afford the oversight, you can't afford the program."
"In my view, it is these kinds of offenses against the public trust more than the occasional story of the ego-driven few in government that truly demoralizes the public and causes the lack of faith," Bump said.
"It is the steady drip, drip, drip of accounts of chronic deficiencies in management of resources and projects."
In 2012, her office found the Department of Conservation and Recreation had cut the number of staff overseeing thousands of leases and permits down to just one because of budget cuts. The department had focused its resources on the recreation and 12 positions had been reduced over the years. That led to numerous cases of uncollected rent, too-low lease rates and out-of-date agreements.
She later found failures in MassHealth of benefits being distributed to people who were not qualified, bills being duplicated and dentists performing unneeded tests.
"That opened the door to fraud," Bump said.
With the massive Big Dig, she said it wasn't the poorly installed ceiling tiles or leaks or even that the Berkshires got the short end of transportation funding then that caused public opinion to sway negatively toward the Central Artery project.
"What was wrong was that the state lost control of cost, quality and timeliness. Oversight of the project was contracted out," Bump said.
The auditor's office has performed more than 300 audits finding similar cases in various places in state government since she was elected in 2010. It is those failures that has led her to believe that staffing and technology to oversee programs needs to be allocated upfront to avoid inefficiencies.
"Accountability isn't just the idea that the government should be willing to own up to and explain decisions. It is not just a willingness to acknowledge and resolve the mistakes. In the business realm, accountability has to be an active, front-end part of government," Bump said.
That means programs will have to narrowed because of a lack of funds and growth of others will have to be stymied. But, ensuring that here is significant oversight of the taxpayer dollars goes far in solving a major ripple dividing the public from the government.
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Mary Grant, on the right, introduced the auditor to students following the event.
"Our democracy is weakened when disenchanted voters become government's lost customers," she said. "I believe the key to rebuilding public trust is investing in accountability."
Her findings, not quite in line with a "good news" breakfast, has caused consternation among those in government. When she published a report showing more than a thousand dead people still listed as receiving welfare and some 30,000 EBT cards missing, many publicly doubted her claims.
"I was surprised at the way they reacted because we had already shared our audit findings with the agency and they had already begun to act on them," Bump said, adding that ultimately many changed their tunes after meeting with the auditor to review the numbers.
"They didn't admit that our numbers were right but they quickly changed their way of relating with us."
Meanwhile, audits she hasn't performed yet have been making headlines. Caseworkers in the Department of Children and Families lost track of a child, who is feared dead. Bump says she had not audited that part of the department prior and she is not currently involved in the investigation.
"We are not involved in the current investigation in that aspect of the agency. By coincidence, we were already in the process of auditing a different aspect of that agency," Bump said. "We have an audit that will be released probably by the end of march, early April, relative to the area of screenings of foster parents."
She hopes that audit can help "give a clearer picture" of the organization.
The office performs some 60 audits at a given time monitoring specific aspects of state organizations. Bump said reports will be released on the Office of Pharmacy Services and the Department of Public Safety's inspections of amusement rides and elevators.
The audits are intended to identify where agencies can do better and provide administrators and legislators information about what is needed to protect the state's assets, she said.
Bump is currently up for re-election for the auditor position - though early last year some considered her a possible gubernatorial candidate. Early in the election process, she told voters that she wanted to stay in the office because there is "unfinished business" she wants to continue working on.