Questions posed by the Clarion Ledger to State Auditor Candidates and responses from Mike Sumrall.
#1 What are your top three priorities?
At this point with the Auditor’s Office it has to be audit staff, provide more financial audits and increase the turn around time on investigations.
#2 What are the three most critical challenges of the office and how do you propose to meet these?
These tie directly to the three priorities.
The number of audit staff is at an all time low. The pay scale must be addressed to ensure more quality auditors are hired and kept on payroll longer than just a training period. Many audit positions have been moved to other non audit areas in the office. There should be a reassignment of staff to fully staff the audit divisions. And finally cross training must be done to ensure the best use of the audit staff that is now available. By that I mean auditor’s may do school audits part of the year and then move to county or agency audits as the audit work load changes.
Now the auditor’s office is doing about 1 of 4 county audits, 1 in 10 school system audits and no university or junior college audits. Those numbers must increase and a yearly compliance audit must be done at all locations even if the yearly financial audit is contracted out to a private cpa firm.
The investigation division now has more staff than any time in the history of the department yet it takes in excess of 3 years to complete investigations. A review of the current investigative staff and their assignments must be made. In many cases it appears the investigators are facing a scheduling issue with too many cases assigned to each and not allowed to devote the time to complete one before moving on to the next assignment. A better mix of audit based investigators and law enforcement based investigators needs to be addressed. Some cases simply require the work of an accountant not a law enforcement type person.
#3 The state auditor is responsible for overseeing public funds. What policies will you put in force to assure fairness, integrity, and non-partisan practices?
I’ve worked for the auditor’s office since January 1979. Fairness, integrity and non-partisan practices have always been my method of operation. I believe this is the case with the field staff but the elected auditors in the past may have been guilty at times of doing things for their best political future. I’m not a career candidate and I’m not running for a higher office in 4 years. I pledge to continue to be fair, have the highest integrity and do my job as auditor regardless of the political party a public official may belong to.
#4 Should the powers of the office to investigate and bring charges be expanded?
I believe the office has enough powers to investigate while working with the Attorney General or other local, state or federal law enforcement agencies.
#5 How can the state audit functions be used to improve the efficiency of government?
Currently the office has a special performance audit division that I believe is not used to the maximum. I think performance audit procedures such as data collection can be worked into audit programs for all divisions and a smaller group of dedicated performance audit staff in the Jackson office can then prepare reports based on that data. This can be done for all divisions, school, counties, agencies as well as Universities and Junior Colleges.
#6 Is the state putting enough resources into auditing?
The state needs to increase the salaries of audit staff and ensure the Office of State Auditor is properly staffed with enough auditors. That is not being done at the present time. I believe the funds spent will be paid back many times in the reduced costs of the audited entities.
#7 Should he auditor be elected?
Yes I believe the Office of State Auditor should be elected but I believe it should be restricted to accountants. Much like the Attorney General’s Office requires an attorney to run. If the standard is not set at a certified public accountant then all candidates should have an bachelor’s degree with a major in accounting.
#8 What can be done to prevent misuse of taxpayer money in such projects as the failed Mississippi Beef Processors?
The auditor’s office faces a difficult situation with providing guidance or input and then doing audits. It’s called independence and you can’t have it if you are too deeply involved in a project. But more input from the auditor’s office into major projects such as the beef plant would have avoided this great loss of public funds. Other agencies, such as MDA should have better checks and balances if they are to oversee these projects. They should not be under pressure from other political entities or officials in the process.
#9 What is the biggest area of concern to monitor for misuse of public money?
I think the biggest area of concern is the current lack of coverage of audits. The Office of the State Auditor is simply not doing enough audits to ensure the proper use of public funds. That number of audits must increase and the scope of the audits should improve. In that I mean the number of tests or samples can be increased on all assignments with the use of computer assisted auditing tools. Test work can be performed by computer to cover the entire population such as a check or receipt register instead of a sample of twenty items. These tests can be done quicker than the current procedures and provide a much higher level of reliance of the results. I promise to automate the audit process to best use the limited number of staff and still provide more audit coverage.
#10 What are your personal rules for accepting campaign donations?
The majority of the funds I have received have been from long time friends, some of 20 years or more. I have not and will not promise contract audits in return for political contributions as some have done in the past. I have not and will not promise political favors from elected officials in return for political contributions.
This office is something I care deeply about and I’ve shown that by using my own meager resources to run for it. I feel I should be the first to step to the plate with funds if I truly believe in my ability to do the job and care about the position.
Mike Sumrall Press Release