Audit reveals Nevada hasn’t yet cut to the bone

Victor Joecks

How many times have Nevadans heard politicians or government officials echo the stale talking point of “We’ve already cut to the bone”?

In case you needed another reminder, no, no they haven’t.

A legislative audit of government contracts with current and former state employees has uncovered possible sweetheart deals that one lawmaker says suggest “criminal activity.”

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said that the irregularities — such as one employee billing the state for working 25 hours a day and another receiving payment of $350 an hour — should be reviewed for possible criminal prosecution by the Nevada attorney general.

The legislative review focused on state contracts with 250 current and former state employees, who were paid $11.2 million in 2008 and 2009. Legislative auditors said they didn’t know how many of those contracts were suspected of irregularities and could not estimate how much the alleged abuse had cost the state.

Great work by the state auditors. Finding out about waste and fraud is the first step toward eliminating it, which is why transparency is so important.

And speaking of transparency, why isn’t Nevada’s checkbook online? Since it’s necessary to know about waste in order to eliminate it, Nevada’s government spending should be as open and transparent as possible.

Another powerful kind of audit is a performance audit.

Performance audits provide an independent assessment of the performance and management of government programs against objective criteria or an assessment of best practices and other information. Performance audits provide information to improve program operations, facilitate decision making by parties with responsibility to oversee or initiate corrective action, and contribute to public accountability.

In other words, performance audits don’t just ensure that there’s no fraud and the money’s all accounted for, they also measure the performance of the state’s spending.

In Washington state, performance audits have identified $3.5 billion in cost savings over a five-year period at the cost of less than $15 million.

This legislative audit shows the importance of oversight and transparency. Let’s hope it’s a springboard to even more transparency and oversight.