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Auditing the auditors

It probably comes as no surprise that Oregon government has for 13 years ignored its own requirement that large state agencies should have internal auditors keeping track of spending and rooting out waste and inefficiency. But now that this lack of oversight has been pointed out — in an audit — that appears to be changing, and that’s a good thing.

Since taking over the state’s second highest elected office, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson has championed his department’s Audits Division, which has produced several revealing reports. Those auditors scrutinize state departments, but not on a full-time basis. Internal auditors track an agency’s day-to-day functions, looking for ways to stretch tax dollars and prevent wasteful spending. It was a statewide audit that highlighted the need for more internal auditors.

By law, every agency that spends $100 million in a two-year budget period, has $10 million in annual cash on hand or employs at least 400 people is supposed to have an internal auditor, but 13 of those departments don’t.

The state Department of Administrative Services was supposed to set up rules and standards for those auditors under the 2005 law, but the number of internal auditors has dropped from 53 in 2007 to 32 today. Legislators are now holding DAS accountable, and Gov. Kate Brown’s recommended budget includes funding for 14 additional internal auditors.

Democrats in the Legislature have already drafted dozens of tax proposals for the 2019 session. They’ll make a stronger case if they make sure existing revenues are being spent wisely first.