Audits go ignored, tax money wasted

November 9, 2010 3:33:54 PM PST
For years, The North Carolina Office of the State Auditor has put out reports on ways that state government can save money. But often, those suggestions fall by the wayside and taxpayers never see the savings.

Now, with North Carolina staring down a nearly $4 billion budget shortfall, the ABC11 Eyewitness News I-Team added up the potential savings in recent audits and pressed lawmakers on why good ideas are going unnoticed.

Our research went back through five years of audit reports. We learned that taxpayers could have save $500 million - and that's a low estimate.

Many of the problems that led to this waste are still costing all of us money.

It's frustrating for State Auditor Beth Wood.

"I just couldn't get my arms around why we were putting out these audits and nobody seemed to be doing anything with the information," she told ABC11 in a recent interview.

Wood has spent 12 years at the Office of the State Auditor. For the past two years, she's been in charge. She's in the business of finding government waste, and business has been good.

In the past few years, auditors have found waste in medical care for inmates, waste in equipment spending at the Department of Transportation, and questionable spending at a half dozen other agencies. But, little has been done with that information.

"I just think that North Carolina has run the same way for a lot of years and nobody wants to change," said Wood.

North Carolina Representative Skip Stam is the House Minority Leader. We showed his the list of seemingly forgotten audits and asked why some of the ideas haven't been taken more seriously at the legislature.

"I hate to defend the indefensible, but sometimes it's because of legitimate policy differences, sometimes it's due to lack of understanding or just negligence," he explained.

But Stam says with a looming state deficit in the billions, that will change.

"We're now in a time of frugality. We need to look at every idea to save money," he said.

Among the audits Wood says she intends to revisit:

· A 2008 report that found the state paying too much for temporary staffing - by $3.5 million.

· And, a 2007 report which could save the state $16 million year just by changing a claims processor.

"$16 million. That's a big one," said Stam.

Wood says since she started going to the legislature and explaining to lawmakers exactly what her audits say and why they matter, they've started to gain traction and get results.

"You saw a $20 million dollar reduction in the budget for DHHS because we now plan not to spend North Carolina tax dollars for our inmates who are going to the hospital, but we plan to charge Medicaid," said Wood.

And Wood says, if lawmakers keep listening, her audits have the potential to save taxpayers millions more and she's brimming with ideas.

"Every topic we get into turns out another topic if not two and I have a list of audits that are just waiting to be tackled and so from that, I say, we've just scratched the surface," she offered.

Wood says she could double her performance review staff and keep everyone busy.

Of course, that would cost money, but Wood points out that just the audit on inmates and Medicaid almost paid for her entire department.

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