Were Last Minute Changes to Auditor Authority Justified?

I’ve been critical of the power grabs and resilience to independent oversight in the latest North Dakota session. From constant complaints from legislators about being forced to create an ethics commission to changes to citizen-led measure it’s been frustrating. The latest was eliminating independent oversight of the State Auditor. I asked at the time, why are legislators so terrified of independent oversight? Were the last minute changes to the Auditor’s authority justified?

A refresher, in the waning days of the 66th legislative session, lawmakers stripped away the State Auditor’s independence in fulfilling their duty on performance audits. Instead of the Auditor’s independence, the office would have to get approval from a legislative committee, the Legislative Audito and Fiscal Review Committee. I wondered if lawmakers were obstructing a potential audit from happening. Republican Rep. Thomas Beadle told me in no way that the case. Beadle joined my radio show on KFGO to discuss the last minute changes.

Rep. Thomas Beadle

LISTEN TO REP. THOMAS BEADLE DISCUSS LAST MINUTE CHANGES TO THE AUDITOR’S AUTHORITY ON KFGO’S “AFTERNOONS LIVE WITH TYLER AXNESS”

The last thing we want is legislators finding out about audits in the paper. – Rep. Thomas Beadle

According to Beadle – who served on the House Appropriations and discussed the Auditor’s Office budget – there were some questionable activities taking place in the office that weren’t really answered during committee hearings. For example, there were increased fees placed on agencies and institutions that were to be paid to the Auditor. Additionally, the current Auditor Josh Gallion wasn’t able to justify the changes in audit hours when pressed by legislators. It appears lawmakers found out about some deep-dive audits through the media which they didn’t appreciate. You can hear the full description here. 

LISTEN TO FORMER ND AUDITOR GORDY SMITH ON KFGO’S “NEWS AND VIEWS WITH JOEL HEITKAMP”

It is possible to understand the legislative concern with some of Gallion’s approach. Ultimately, the Legislature pays for the budget on both ends of these performance audits. Does it settle the concern I have of a legislative veto of independent oversight? Absolutely not. Even though the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee will have public hearings about whether or not the Auditor can pursue performance audits, public pressure hasn’t tempered some of these members from the arrogance of doing what they want even if that desire is against public wishes.

There are other ways to improve communication in Bismarck. There are too many possibilities in this authority change. Nothing prohibits legislators from vetoing a performance audit in the future. What if it is an audit into their activity? That is troubling.

Governor Doug Burgum should have vetoed this language to keep the Auditor’s independence. Perhaps it was an opportunity to get revenge against an Auditor that gave Burgum a metaphorical “black eye” due to questionable travel. The Legislature served revenge on a platter to Burgum served cold as the time ticked away in the 66th session.

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