An auditor with an eagle eye

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1 2014 6:30 p.m. MST

JD: One of the first things I did when I came into office is rework the mission statement, which is as follows: “We provide Utah taxpayers and elected officials with an independent assessment of financial operation, statutory compliance and performance management for state and local governments.” So you look at that, "independent assessment," what does that mean? We’re not in the chain of command with management, we’re outside of that, so when we come in and audit we issue our opinion on what we see and we make our recommendations. Then it’s up to management to act on that. They’re free to decide what they want to do, but we have independence that agencies don’t have.

DN: So in your view it’s important for the auditor to be highly visible?

JD: Even before I was in office I started going to local government public hearings on taxation and things like that. I wanted people to understand that the auditor and our team in the auditor’s office would be more visible in our oversight role. It’s our role to help empower the public to provide better oversight of government. So just being out there visible and going to meetings helps engage the public in their oversight role.

DN: Do you encourage the auditors on your staff to get outside the office as much as possible?

JD: One of the things I tell folks is that you have to get out in the field to see what’s going on. There’s only so much you can do from a desk. As an example, we were doing an audit of the Department of Alcoholic Beverages Control and one of the things we wanted to do is check the trailers of their common carrier trucking company that delivers their product out to the field to make sure the temperatures were correct per the contract on the trailers. In the process, we stumbled across the fact that the trailers were unlocked in a parking lot that anybody could access. Which was Whoa! You could have a teenager come in there or anybody who wanted to help themselves to the product. We immediately gave a heads-up to the DABC director and within 24 hours they had new procedures in place to ensure that all the trailers were locked when they left the warehouse and locked when they arrived at the stores. That’s one of those things where you can find something that shouldn’t be going on by being on the scene.

DN: The more scrutiny, then, the better?

JD: Part of the nature of audits, from my perspective, is they help keep honest people honest. The perception is if nobody’s ever going to look then some people are going to start to cut corners and try to get away with things that they shouldn’t. If the perception is somebody’s going to come check at some point then it helps conscientious people be conscientious about what they’re doing.

DN: How much controversy have you created by stirring things up?

JD: Probably the most controversial thing was before I came into office when I asked for everybody’s resignation and then reappointed the staff I thought could best do the job. I personally interviewed essentially everybody in the office — about 43 people, of which I reappointed about three-fourths of them. That set a tone right out of the chute that this was not business as usual. Some were surprised that I reappointed so many members of the team, but the level of talent that stayed is extremely high. These auditors are very talented at government auditing, and it’s been a great year working with them.

DN: That no doubt got the staff’s attention. What’s gotten the most attention from the government agencies that you audit?

JD: Something that was somewhat controversial but I think is good is altering how we bill our customers or clients. The practice had been to only bill for direct labor costs, and I wanted to break it down into a fully burdened cost and to provide more transparency for our clients so they could see how many hours we’re charging, how many dollars, and exactly how we compute that. It helps the client to be better prepared because they can see the extra costs they’re going to bear if they’re not. That’s a business approach, and I’m just trying to bring that business mentality to what we do.

DN: After almost a year, how would you gauge your popularity?

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