Audits require broad access to data from state agencies
The state auditor's office encountered administration roadblocks in conducting an evaluation of the Superferry's EIS exemption.
AN audit citing the mistake by Lingle administration officials in exempting a ferry operation from environmental law
conforms to court rulings last year and thus was anticipated.
The report's recommendations should be taken up to prevent environmental harm and the community divisiveness and loss of public trust the ferry conflict generated.
The report is the first of two phases of the audit, required as part of legislation allowing the Hawaii Superferry to operate concurrent with an environmental review.
While the audit hoped to unravel how the ferry exemption evolved, it has given rise to another dispute that could undermine the authority of the office charged with reviewing the functions and finances of state agencies.
Citing executive and attorney-client privileges, the administration blocked the auditor from access to some information needed for a thorough review. The state Constitution gives the auditor's office broad access to information because it would not be able to do its public duty without it. Through the years, the office has generally had few difficulties with getting records and documents or interviewing staff and officials.
But for the ferry audit, and to a lesser degree for one conducted last summer on the troubled Bureau of Conveyances, the administration has put up restrictions, claiming privileges not only for the governor, her staff and advisers, but for department heads, deputies, agency heads and administrative assistants. It also uniquely required a member of the attorney general's office be present during interviews with officials, past and present, who were involved in exempting the ferry.
Since there is no pending litigation that could have bearing on the material, the administration's limitations are puzzling.
Possible litigation was one motive for the special legislation approved after the courts found the exemption illegal. Lawmakers and the administration worried the ferry company could hold the state liable for its troubles, but the audit's findings of Superferry's own misrepresentations would likely have negated liability.
The report determined that a "purported federal deadline" compelled state officials to find a scenario to bypass environmental review and that no one seemed to have confirmed the deadline with federal officials.
More importantly, however, the audit found that the exemption determination process effectively shuts out public participation, and leaves people with no recourse but to file lawsuits to challenge official judgments. If litigation is of concern, the state should change procedures and install enforcement authority so a ferry fiasco does not happen again.