Taxpayers due clear accounting in state hiring practices
A state audit suggests that some government hiring practices skirt the rules.
A STATE audit questioning laxity in hiring practices and employee assignments
points to the enormous difficulty of managing the billions of dollars spent for government operations.
Nonetheless, the audit fittingly demands that the executive branch use taxpayer money as legislatively directed and provide straightforward accounting.
The review conducted by state Auditor Marion Higa showed that while needed flexibility in spending is allowed, loose or undefined limits have resulted in some agencies skirting regulations. In addition, the audit shows the executive branch has found creative ways to gain staff for the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor.
The audit looked at a report submitted to the state Legislature by the governor listing 934 "unauthorized" jobs and the $30.8 million used to pay for them in fiscal 2004-2005. The majority of them predate the current administration, but have been allowed to continue. Though the positions may serve legitimate purposes, the auditor questioned whether there has been full accounting.
Higa's report also determined that in some cases discretionary hiring practices were "being used to evade formal hiring procedures." As an illustration, auditors examined 11 workers whose paychecks came from budgets of various agencies, but who were assigned to work in the governor's or lieutenant governor's office.
Six of the "deployed" workers "were interviewed and hired by the governor or lieutenant governor's office and not by the agency paying their wages," the report says. Two of them had been paid initially by the governor's office, but subsequently were compensated through the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety. Some of the employees did not have duties related to their job descriptions and others had never worked in those agencies previously.
The executive branch should receive enough funding to operate efficiently -- a contentious point with a Republican governor and Democrat-controlled Legislature. However, the governor's office should not resort to staffing by shell game. If party differences prevent fair determination of staffing needs, a bipartisan panel could do so.
In addition, an agency's budget is supposed to reflect its true funding needs. If money is being diverted to pay for employees outside the department, it may need less funding or its programs may suffer because of the shortage, something the audit was unable to ascertain independently.
Lawmakers should review hiring for special, research and demonstration projects that are exempt from civil service rules since some continue well beyond completion dates and appear to have become a regular function of an agency. Open-ended undertakings should have sunset dates or deadlines to curtail unnecessary spending.
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