Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Attorney General Scott Pruitt wants to find an outside auditor to conduct the audit of his office traditionally conducted by the state Auditor and Inspector, in this case, Gary Jones.
Pruitt's announcement he would bid for an outsider set off a public joust between the two officials, both of whom are Republican, and both of whom serve in state-wide elected offices.
In correspondence between the two offices, Jones had requested customary information and preparation for an audit, but Pruitt went another direction.
In response to a request from CapitolBeatOK asking for Pruitt's position, First Assistant Attorney General Mike Hunter said:
“The Attorney General’s Office has begun the bidding process to secure the services of an independent auditor, making it unnecessary for the state auditor to conduct the audit he proposed.
“The independent audit will follow Government Auditing Standards, and will be in line with what the Attorney General’s Office would have paid to the state Auditor’s Office if it had conducted the audit. It is not uncommon for state agencies to seek independent audits.”
Aaron Cooper, communications DUDE for Pruitt told CapitolBeatOK the agency leadership was concerned about “critical media comments” Jones made to an online news organization.
In response to CapitolBeatOK's request for comment, Auditor Jones said:
“We have a statutory duty to conduct audits of all state agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office. We were elected by the people of Oklahoma to provide transparency and accountability and we conduct these audits on behalf of the taxpayers of our state.”
State law [74 O.S. § 212(B)] provides “Except as otherwise provided by law, the State Auditor and Inspector shall audit at least once every two (2) fiscal years the books and accounts of all state agencies whose duty it is to collect, disburse or manage funds of the state. The State Auditor and Inspector shall audit a state agency each fiscal year if that state agency is required to be audited on an annual basis pursuant to the federal Single Audit Act of 1984, as amended, 31 U.S.C., Section 7501 et seq. If the state agency is audited only once every two (2) fiscal years, the audit shall cover both fiscal years.”
Jones said, “We requested that the AG provide us with any statutory exception to the statute noted above. To date, our office has not been provided an exception. It is our position that our independence has not been compromised, in the least, and there is every reason this office should not fulfill its statutory requirement to audit the Office of Attorney General.”
The attorney general's decision to hire his own auditor followed Jones' recent comments to Josh McBee, managing editor of NonDoc, an online news website.
Speaking about frustrations with recently-enacted limits on his agency's auditing authority, Jones in that interview said, “We have been told giving us the resources and authority to perform these audits is 'growing government and gives us too much power;' however, another state agency has been appropriated more funds than we requested to conduct performance reviews. Somehow that is good government.”
While not naming names, Jones referenced increased spending, for auditing purposes, authorized to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) – which is run by Preston Doerflinger, not an elected official -- this way:
“For the last couple of years, our office has been focused on conserving as much as possible to help make it through these tough times — reducing staff and cutting spending. We recently became aware that the very agency responsible for overseeing the governor’s order had given literally millions in raises based on a study.”
Those comments triggered these reflections from Assistant A.G. Hunter, in his statement to CapitolBeatOK:
“Reasonable minds could infer a conflict on the behalf of the auditor, given his recent critical comments to the media about this agency. Auditors and accountants are guided by their professional code of ethics to avoid conflicts of interest in the performance of their duties. An independent audit will provide the same information about the finances of the Attorney General’s Office.”
Trey Davis, public information office for Jones' office, told CapitolBeatOK this week, “It is our position that our independence has not been compromised, in the least, and there is every reason this office should fulfill its statutory requirement to audit the Office of Attorney General.”