Monday, 12 February 2007 00:43

NDOW audit: Merely incompetence or a crime?

Written by Ira Hansen
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I’m not sure under Nevada law when incompetency crosses over into criminality. When millions of dollars are basically lost by a government agency, while at the same time the agency is down at the legislature pleading for tax increases for funding needs, is that a crime? Or purely an almost unbelievable level of negligence?

And what if the person directly responsible for the oversight, the "Chief Financial Officer," is gone from the job more than 60 percent of the time? A crime against the taxpayers, or incompetence?

For our new governor, Jim Gibbons, the legislative audit, made public early in January, of the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) should make his blood boil and heads roll. What the auditors found is truly remarkable.

In a nutshell, the auditors uncovered that NDOW failed to do all sorts of pretty basic bookkeeping that allowed several millions of dollars to slip through their hands, especially federal monies. These millions were available and even allocated in advance—all NDOW had to do was submit the proper paperwork.

They found "inadequate grant monitoring," costs exceeding budgets," "funds…restricted for specific projects…have been inappropriately used," "lack of procedures," "insufficient communication between program and fiscal staff," and more, all of which caused losses between three and four million dollars at least.

When you consider the NDOW budget totals about 23 to 25 million a year, this kind of loss is huge. Equally bizarre is the revealed fact NDOW operated in the red, with deficits totaling $724,114 in fiscal year 2002, $757,767 in 2003, and $673,353 in 2004, most or all of which could have been wiped away with proper paperwork for already earmarked federal funds.

The legislature, alarmed by these mounting piles of red ink, granted large fee and tax increases for NDOW—but did so prior to having NDOW properly audited; certainly a mistake not to be repeated.

Both the Chief Financial Officer and the NDOW boss during this time frame, Terry Crawforth, have retired, so the Governor unfortunately cannot do the right thing and fire them.

But others are also responsible to one degree or another, including several major sportsmen’s groups—or at least a tiny fraction of their leadership who are well known NDOW bootlickers—that actively campaigned at the Legislature to delay or even block having an audit. Ironically, they did so based on supposed concerns over the costs associated with the audit—which is in reality a tiny pittance.

Truth is, good sycophants that they are, their opposition was because NDOW detractors use these audits to attack the agency. In hindsight, the audit has largely vindicated the at times relentless critics of NDOW. As they have claimed, the audit exposes a high level of fiscal incompetency in the agency.

Exactly where the Governor appointed State Wildlife Commission fits into this ugly picture and what level of responsibility they share, is unclear. They have budget oversight responsibility but, lacking an accountant or an auditor, discovering these errors is probably beyond reasonable expectations.

Paradoxically, the "critics" of NDOW recommended having an accountant position added to the Wildlife Commission, but that was dismissed out of hand as a crackpot idea. Once again, the critics have been exonerated. And those on the Wildlife Commission who accepted budget oversight responsibility but rejected the accountant position idea should now accept the millions of lost dollar consequences and be held accountable.

The soon to be appointed new Director for NDOW, ideally Nevada native Stan Stiver, will undoubtedly implement immediately all of the changes mandated by the audit. To insure never a repeat, Governor Gibbons need to reconsider the accountant on the Commission idea, and should seriously consider asking for the resignation of certain members of the current Guinn appointed Commission as well. Additionally, the AG’s office should review the audit results for possible criminal malfeasance.

Last but not least: Sportsmen’s groups, one of which I am a lifetime member of (Nevada Bighorns Unlimited", should muzzle their out of control NDOW worshippers and poll their memberships for direction rather than allowing the butt-kissing elements to make fools out of them when audits reveal just how incredibly wrong they are.


Reprinted from the Sparks Tribune

January 21, 2007

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