By state Sen. Barbara Buono
As the prime sponsor of the bill that would create an elected Office of the Comptroller, I am encouraged by Governor-elect Chris Christie’s support for creating a comptroller that is independent, apolitical and empowered to hold all levels of government fiscally accountable.
SCR-52 would qualitatively enhance the powers of the State Comptroller, making the position elective and broaden the scope of the office to initiate probes of all public contracts.
An elected Comptroller would be self-motivated and answerable to the people and not to the governor.
It’s a critical part of the effort to get spending under control so that our efforts will be sustainable and not just short-term band-aids.
New Jersey needs an elected State Comptroller empowered to investigate all public contracts, large or small.
We need to give the Office of the State Comptroller more power to go after even the smallest cases of waste and fraud. In doing that, we must also make it an elected position so that the Comptroller is only accountable to the voters.
If we really want to take on waste and fraud at all levels, we need more checks and balances. An elected State Comptroller is exactly the independent voice we’d need in Trenton.
It’s still far too easy to abuse the system when the comptroller has no authority to pre-approve contracts under $10 million. There’s a lot of room for considerable waste and fraud in these so-called “small” contracts.
This two-tiered auditing should be eliminated. The comptroller must be authorized to review all independent state entities and local government contracts.
The comptroller’s current powers virtually exempt every state entity, school board and municipal government from audits except under the most exceptional of circumstances. The comptroller is only allowed to audit entities with contracts under $10 million if he believes there was an error in how an audit was conducted or on his own initiative. This renders this power essentially meaningless.
The comptroller’s oversight must be expanded to allow for the review all state contracts before they are issued. Contract oversight should not be based upon amount.
The changes in my legislation would also include consolidating all audits of government entities under the Office of the Comptroller, and giving the comptroller the power to pre-approve all contracts at all levels of government.
There is an inherent conflict in having internal auditors hired by state agencies, reporting directly to agency heads and having their salaries and office spaces determined by the agency head.
Such a relationship would reasonably make auditors reluctant to make waves because it could potentially jeopardize their personal well-being. Internal agency audits are not positioned to uncover waste due to these relationships.
Therefore, under my proposal all fiscal offices at each state agency would be moved into the comptroller’s office.
There are thousands of contracts being executed by government entities in New Jersey each year – all with the potential for abuse and fraud. Even if the amount wasted in each contract is small, the sheer volume of contracts means that taxpayers are losing millions of dollars each year.
I look forward on working with the Governor-elect on this important initiative.
Buono, a Democrat representing seven Middlesex County municipalities, is the chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
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