Legislature Overhauls Independent Oversight of State Auditor

In the waning days of the 66th legislative session, lawmakers stripped away the State Auditor’s independence in fulfilling their duty. Instead of the Auditor being able to independently decided to undertake a performance audit on a state agency, the office must now get approval from a legislative committee. It appears as though legislators are attempting to obstruct a potential performance audit they don’t want to take place. Is the move constitutional? Governor Burgum should get his veto pen out on this one.

The change came in the form of a conference committee action. As far as I can tell, the drastic change in performance audits was never a part of the budget when it first passed the Senate and the House. It sure looks like they tried to sneak this by the public. It is another attempted legislative power grab because they don’t trust anybody but themselves. I wrote about how the legislature doesn’t trust voters and local officials on the same day they placed this amendment on the Auditor’s budget.

Dustin Gawrylow, Managing Director of the ND Watchdog Network, said when I asked him on my KFGO radio show “Afternoons Live” yesterday that rumors are lawmakers might be concerned the Auditor may look at legislative travel. The podcast of that interview will be available shortly. The fear comes after the current Auditor, Josh Gallion, performed an audit on the Governor’s travel. That audit was undertaken “after the Republican governor was heavily criticized for traveling to Minneapolis to watch the Super Bowl from a stadium suite provided by Xcel Energy.”

Travel could well be the cause for concern legislators are trying to keep in the dark from the public. Last session, while the legislature was slashing budgets and telling agencies to find savings, they refused to cut their own travel expenses. Those state-paid conferences aren’t the only trips that may come under scrutiny with a performance audit.

Or is there something more? Why are they so terrified of independent oversight? They want control over the Auditor. What are they afraid the office will find? They refuse whistleblower protection in the newly created ethics process, the same one they whined about for years. Who are they trying to silence? This pattern of trying to consolidate authority is troubling.

Tyler Axness
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