Do Financial and Performance Audits On Every City Department, at the Department Level
Published: January 1, 2014
Two years after she first said it, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s most audacious claim remains the same: Auditing city agencies—thoroughly, independently, annually—would actually waste taxpayers’ money. Working assiduously behind the scenes, smiling all the while that she is “not against audits,” the mayor managed to neuter the City Council’s demand that city budgets be looked over carefully, agency by agency.
By the end of 2012 the deal was, sure, every four years, starting in two years. For a few big agencies.
Baltimore, we can do better.
Hell, almost every city of any size in the democratic world already does do better. It is not radical to require annual independent audits of government agencies. And they don’t waste money.
You know what audits do? Audits find wasted money. They recover money. Done with any competence, they save money. Lots of it.
What Baltimore does is a single annual financial statement, which supposedly serves as an “audit” of all city agencies’ annual spending. In a way, this makes sense: Money for city operations all must flow through the Department of Finance, so that is the logical “choke point” at which to examine all the income and spending.
But it is not enough.
As is demonstrated time and again, money spent by city agencies does not necessarily pay for the items and services specified on the paperwork or computer code that the Department of Finance uses to check. In order to really understand what is happening, someone has to walk to the houses that Baltimore Housing is renovating or renting on behalf of a low-income family. Is the family living there? Is the house actually habitable? Is some connected person getting paid way more than any other person would for the same house?
Same thing with sewer repairs, water billing, tax bills, recycling, trash pickup, drug treatment, parking enforcement, parking garages, property seized by police, and myriad other government functions.
Whenever this is done, on any scale, things are found. In May, an audit of federal spending on city schools found dinner cruises and other abuses totaling a half-million bucks.
For years, reporters at The Sun have uncovered million-dollar property tax mistakes just by pulling public records and analyzing them. These are reporters, not accountants—and they used material anyone can get. When it came to light (again) this fall, Councilman Carl Stokes (again) demanded audits, Mayor Rawlings-Blake (again) said it was premature (“We’re not against audits,” she helpfully reminded), and Comptroller Joan Pratt complained that she would do an audit, if only Finance would turn over the relevant records.
People: This. Is. Total. Bullshit.