Auditor General DePasquale Tells Senate Appropriations Committee IT Upgrades Needed to Make Department More Efficient, Effective

February 20 2013
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Auditor General DePasquale Tells Senate Appropriations Committee IT Upgrades Needed to Make Department More Efficient, Effective

HARRISBURG (Feb. 20, 2013) – Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today made his first appearance before the Senate Appropriations Committee to discuss his department’s funding needs for the 2013-14 fiscal year. Before addressing questions from senators, DePasquale submitted the following statement:

“Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Department of the Auditor General’s 2013-14 budget needs.

“One thing I discovered when I traveled across the state last year is that very few people know what the Department of the Auditor General does and how our work affects the lives of nearly all Pennsylvanians.

“The Department of the Auditor General produces about 4,000 audit reports per year — that is 16 audits per work day, per year. This is more audits than any other state for which data is available. We audit everything from:

  • the 500 school districts and 173 charter and cyber charter schools;
  • to the nearly 2,000 volunteer firefighter’s relief associations that receive $78 million in state aid annually;
  • and the 2,600 municipal pension plans that have a total value of $9.5 billion.

“We also audit 55 state agencies, departments, boards and commissions as well as sample the 370,000 corporate tax returns and conduct special performance audits as needed. We do other audits, but in the interest of time, I will spare you the details.

“As many of you know, auditing is very labor-intensive work. Therefore, personnel costs consume about 94 percent of our operating budget. Without a doubt, the department worked hard to reduce personnel costs in recent years. Gone are the days when we had 725 staff and a state appropriation of $52 million to produce about 5,000 audits annually.

“Our current staff level is 552, which is 24 percent fewer people than were doing these audits just five years ago. The department, like most of state government, is continuing to try to become more efficient to accomplish our mission without impacting the quality of the work we deliver.

“Just to pay for current staff and operations, the Department of the Auditor General needs an appropriation increase of $3.5 million beyond what Governor Corbett included in his proposal due to increased health care and pension obligations and $2 million less in augmentations.

“Taxpayers have made it clear that they want us to do more with less and to be more efficient. I have heard this message and I am already making changes to increase fiscal responsibility and make the department as efficient as possible by:

  • Reducing the number of state cars by 44.
  • Drastically changing our printing practices, by making two-sided printing the default setting and eliminating hard-copy audit reports. This will save more than 3.3 million sheets of paper annually.
  • Implementing a much-needed upgrade to our phone system to save tens of thousands of dollars annually.
  • Reducing travel expenses.

“The savings from these initiatives and others might seem relatively small in a $28 billion state budget, but they represent a significant portion of our non-personnel costs and demonstrate that we are committed to working as efficiently and effectively as possible.

“As I noted earlier, most of the cost savings initiatives in the department in recent years were the result of reducing staff. While we want to focus on delivering quality audits, the facts are clear that staff reductions have had a direct impact on the number of audits the department is able to complete each year. In the same time frame that staff was reduced by 24 percent, the number of audits dropped by 19 percent. Meanwhile we have a backlog of more than 1,000 audits.

“That may not sound significant, but consider the fact that fewer staff means we struggle to complete timely audits so that we can help make government more efficient and help reduce costs borne by taxpayers. The sooner audits uncover funding irregularities, the sooner the situation can be corrected and, if necessary, the funding put back into the programs where it can do the most good. In a school district, for example, a timely audit could identify funding that helps a school board restore a valuable program for students without the need to increase local property taxes.

“While the department reduced staff to stay within budget over the past several years, there were no substantive investments made in technology in nearly a decade. Now, we must focus on bringing out technology resources in line with the agencies and organizations we are charged with auditing in order to become more efficient and improve the timeliness of our audits.

“The department is in the midst of a comprehensive technology review that will result in an IT strategic plan, similar to the Treasury’s that is being funded at $12 million this year.

“Many people are shocked when they hear the Department of the Auditor General still uses the antiquated Lotus Notes program for electronic communications and we do not have smart phones or blackberries, despite that 60 percent work in the field. Sadly, that’s not the worst part of our out-dated technology systems. Here are a few other examples of our critical technology needs:

  • Computers used by auditors are between seven and 12 years old — ancient by modern IT standards and inadequate to ensure auditors can do their jobs effectively.
  • On average, eight computer hard drives crash each month, resulting in countless hours of lost productivity and costly repairs.
  • Data storage is so limited that the department is in danger of running out of storage space by June of this year. The storage issues must be addressed before we can update our businesses processes rely less on hard copy filing and be more effective with our reduced workforce.
  • The Windows XP operating system that runs all of our computers will no longer be supported in 2014, less than a year away.
  • Telephone system is more than a dozen years old and parts to fix it are no longer available. Our teleconferencing capabilities are extremely limited and in the entire department there are no cell phones, blackberries, smart phones or pagers, even though 60 percent of the staff is based in the field.
  • The department is the only agency in state government that submits payroll to the Treasury on paper. Beginning in 2014, the Treasury will no longer accept our paper-based transactions.
  • Network security needs to be a priority.
  • Current bandwidth limits our ability to take advantage of video conferencing that could save time and money on travel expenses for employees.
  • The capacity to do electronic data analytics — to help develop risk-based audit practices so auditors can focus attention on areas most at risk — is limited by hardware and software.
  • The audit tracking system is out of date and forces a labor- and paper-intensive process that further reduces auditing abilities.
  • Administrative software for payroll, accounting, and personnel management is out of date. The current system requires field staff — about 60 percent of staff — to mail their paper leave slips and travel reimbursement forms to Harrisburg for approval and processing. This is a very labor-intensive, time consuming, and costly process taking time away from audit responsibilities.

“These enormous technology challenges greatly hinder the department’s efforts to increase efficiencies and reduce costs.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been in your shoes and I know it is a monumental task to evaluate the fiscal needs of so many state agencies and programs. I do want you to know about the important role the Department of the Auditor General can play in saving taxpayer money in critical programs so that it can be channeled to programs that are efficient and effective. Our state budget allocation affects the role we can play.

“I ask you to make an investment now to maintain current staff and fund much needed upgrades to our ancient technology systems to improve efficiencies and reduce costs in the long run.”

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