Time To Vote 2018: Here Are The Candidates For Vermont State Auditor
The auditor of accounts reviews state programs to find waste and inefficiency and holds government agencies accountable.
What does the auditor do?
The auditor is supposed to function as the chief watchdog of state government, and the mission of the office is to "foster the prevention of waste, fraud and abuse." The auditor serves a two-year term.
The office is responsible for evaluating whether state agencies are fulfilling their missions, and also overseeing financial audits that track where taxpayers' dollars are going. While the auditor doesn't make public policy, this person does make recommendations to lawmakers.
Who's running for auditor?
There are three candidates for auditor on Vermont's ballot in this general election:
- Marina Brown (Liberty Union)
- Doug Hoffer (Democrat/Progressive)
- Richard Kenyon (Republican)
Scroll to learn more about the candidates.
- Liberty Union candidate
- Candidate in Vermont for lieutenant governor in 2014 and for auditor in 2016; has not held elected statewide office in Vermont
- Town of residence: Charleston
The auditor's role:
Brown said her primary goal would be "to dig up information and put it on a centralized website where anyone in the state could see. What's important is to release government information on how the government is run and protect privacy for individuals."
She said she would be "very aggressive" in her approach, and particularly be tuned into open meetings law violations and posting town paperwork (that doesn't violate individuals' privacy) to a public state portal.
"This is the kind of stuff that makes people be more confident in their government when they know how it works," Brown said. "I would use the office of auditor to open up what is not done, whether ... because a town doesn't have the resources to put stuff up or because they're not used to operating in a transparent manner."
Brown said her experience working in the IT field could translate into the auditor's responsibilities.
"I've been involved in computer security for a long time," she said. "I've done forensic investigations of computer crimes in companies I've worked at, when people hacked into stuff. And I know how to follow leads. I do a lot of investigations for stories that I publish online as well."
Determining what to audit:
A couple areas Brown said she would focus on as auditor would be the prison system — including the corrections health care provider Centurion — and Vermont Health Connect.
"I did a public records request on what software they were using, and I was denied," she said of the health exchange. "I would make sure that the public knows what was used there and ... ask the question 'why wasn't there open bidding? And 'why wasn't open-source software used in that project?'"
And a little more:
"Vermont has a problem with transparency," Brown said. "I would like to use the office of auditor to push the state to be more transparent using technology and social changes." She pointed to the state's public records law in particular as an example of what she sees as a not transparent system.
"I'm running to get out ideas," she also said. "Whether I win or lose, I'm trying to promote transparency within the state of Vermont. And I think I've been part of the conversation, and I think it has helped."
Want to hear more from Marina Brown? Listen to an extended interview here.
- Democratic/Progressive candidate
- Incumbent, seeking fourth term
- Town of residence: Burlington
The auditor's role:
Hoffer summed up the auditor's responsibilities into three main areas: auditing the state's financial statements, doing a federal audit and conducting performance audits.
"The first two, we farm out to a private firm — it's very complicated, it's time consuming, it's challenging in terms of the number and type of staff — but most importantly it leaves us free to do performance auditing, which is no more or less important, but it's more fun for sure," Hoffer said. "And, I think ... in many cases, of more value to state government and to taxpayers."
Performance audits, Hoffer explained, have to meet what are known as Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS), "which are quite rigorous, particularly in terms of documentation, but also planning and every step along the way." The office can also do what's known as investigative reports, which according to Hoffer are still thorough — but because they don't have to meet those GAGAS requirements, there's more flexibility and can be done faster.
He referenced a performance audit released last year of the Department of Buildings and General Services, which looked at 10 of the department's projects that altogether were budgeted for approximately $90 million. "We made some recommendations about how they can improve the process, streamline the process," Hoffer explained.
Hoffer also pointed to an investigative report on "sole-source contracting" — basically if the state is getting competitive bids on projects, or not (aka going with a sole source).
"I was curious about that," he said, "and we found that among the major departments that we looked at, 42 percent of all the contracts were sole-source."
Hoffer said information like this is valuable to the administration both for optics, but also to ensure they are pursuing the most cost-effective options.
Determining what to audit:
"Obviously you want to follow the money," Hoffer said. "There are some programs and entities that handle a great deal of money. They're certainly worthy of oversight. You might also look to departments or programs that haven't had any oversight in many, many years."
Hoffer said leads can come from the general public or maybe employees within a certain state department, but "the decision ultimately is mine in concert with my deputy and my senior staff."
Insufficient data, Hoffer said, is sometimes a roadblock when it comes to doing "a true programmatic performance audit" to see if a program is meeting its goals. He added that's been improving and that doing more of those programmatic audits is a priority if he's re-elected.
And a little more:
Hoffer said he values that the Vermont auditor is an independent, elected position, rather than an appointed one.
"I don't work for the governor; I don't work for the Legislature. I work for the people of this state," Hoffer said. "Now I want to work with all of those parties to solve problems — once we identify problems, we want to help them resolve them. But I think it's inappropriate for someone in my position to be directed by another elected official because then I would not be independent and truly objective."
Want to hear more from Doug Hoffer? Listen to an extended interview here.
- Republican candidate (selected by Vermont GOP after primary-winner H. Brooke Paige withdrew nomination)
- First time seeking elected statewide office in Vermont
- Town of residence: Brattleboro
Kenyon was invited by VPR to participate in an interview and debate, but declined the invitations via email, stating: "I am actually not running, I was ask [sic] just to fill the spot so there would be a name there."
AND REMEMBER: Vermont's 2018 general election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.