Break the 'Groundhog Day' auditing loop
By Brad Bumsted
Published: Saturday, April 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
The annual meeting of the Legislative Audit Advisory Commission reminds me of the time warp that served as a theme of the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day.”
Each year, this obscure commission gets together to accept the “independent” annual audit prepared by the same auditing firm, Mitchell & Titus. This year's audit cost taxpayers $185,000.
There are never any substantial findings to speak of. But that's not the auditors' fault. They are given narrow guidelines to make sure the dollars add up. It's not a performance audit of the $306 million spent by the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the largest full-time legislature in the nation.
Like the time loop experienced by fictional TV reporter Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” the meetings of the advisory commission replay from one year to the next. Lawmakers who probably question how they ever landed on the commission meet in the same room and do the same things — deny government activists the right to speak, hand out a flimsy agenda with no names or specifics, announce a legislative surplus of $100 million or more and in a proud moment, note how much it's gone down, and listen to auditors spout meaningless drivel about legislative funds.
The auditor notes that leaders and committee chairmen shouldn't have checkbooks. The commission members nod and bury the recommendation every year.
The checkbooks aren't under the review of the House controller, like other House accounts. They use these checkbooks for dinners, catered events, incidentals.
House Republican spokesman Stephen Miskin suggests no problems have surfaced from use of the accounts and that they are important to committee chairmen.
This bipartisan panel could do a couple things to improve next year's meeting:
• Give government activists, who have legitimate questions about why the auditing contract isn't subject to open bids, 10 minutes to speak at the start of the hearing. This year, Rock the Capital's Eric Epstein was asked to leave after asking questions anyway as the hearing proceeded. A Capitol cop escorted him out.
• Provide an agenda with names and sufficient detail on what the meeting is about.
• At the start of the meeting, provide the public with copies of the audit or a reasonable substitute. Now, Chairman Gordon Denlinger and a House GOP staff lawyer claim it is illegal to hand out the audit before the commission has approved it. That sounds like nonsense. But avoid the issue by handing out a two- or three-page summary of the main numbers and findings at the outset.
Remember, the public is paying for the audit.
As it stands now, these guys blow in, act as if the spectators (media and activists) aren't there, approve the audit and get out of Dodge as quickly as possible.
This isn't rocket science. Denlinger, a Lancaster Republican, seems like a conscientious and sincere lawmaker.
And short of having a real audit, a little common sense, public relations and respect for the taxpayer would break the “Groundhog Day” loop.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Analysis: Steelers could fill needs with free agents while not spending big bucks
- Police charge Westmoreland County priest in $124,000 theft case
- Steelers to release LaMarr Woodley; Taylor restructures contract
- Marcellus shale driller Noble Energy Inc. sinks roots into Pittsburgh
- Crosby lifts Penguins over Capitals in last game of road trip
- Senator: CIA improperly searched computer network
- Pittsburgh woman’s death at Drexel probed as possible meningitis
- Pennsylvania man pleads guilty to threat against Obama
- Job cuts at AGH part of ‘strategic’ process
- Penguins notebook: Heralded Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov debuts with Capitals
- Ex-Allegheny County police officer pleads guilty in hit-run death