Missouri auditor says new law gives office more flexibility

Monday, July 15, 2013 | 4:07 p.m. CDT; updated 4:58 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 15, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY — A newly enacted state law will give the Missouri auditor's office greater flexibility in determining when and how to audit government agencies, Auditor Tom Schweich said Monday.

The measure puts into state statute some responsibilities that auditors already have undertaken but have at times been challenged in court, such as the ability to audit an agency's performance in addition to its finances. It also repeals some mandatory time frames for audits to be conducted and requires more facts and figures about the finances of state and local government to be posted on an online state database.

Nixon signed the legislation Friday without much comment. It takes effect Aug. 28.

Schweich said the measure updates World War II-era laws governing the auditor's office to better reflect how government and auditors currently operate.

"It gives us tremendous flexibility on when to audit, who to audit and how to audit, and it makes Missouri the most accountable state in the union," Schweich said.

Although Nixon's office described the bill as strengthening the auditor's authority, Schweich said he doesn't think it gives him more power. Rather, "it makes clear that what I'm doing is within the scope of my powers," he said.

The measure says auditors can examine a variety of performance criteria, including an entity's effectiveness and results, efficiency of operation, internal controls and compliance with laws, regulations, contracts and grant agreements.

It allows the auditor to initiate audits "as often as he or she deems necessary" and specifically requires the office to maintain a telephone hotline, email and Internet means by which people can report allegations of government wrongdoing.

Whereas current law makes it a general misdemeanor for officials not to comply with an auditor's inquiries, the new measure clarifies that it is a Class A misdemeanor — punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Among other things, the legislation requires details about gubernatorial budget cuts to be posted on the Missouri Accountability Portal, an online database that already includes information about state employees, expenditures and tax credits. Details about local bond issuances and federal grants of at least $1 million to state agencies also will have to be posted on the portal.

Another provision in the bill allows counties to reduce their budgets twice during any fiscal year in which revenues have declined by at least 2 percent.

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