DMR needs more, not less, oversight

Sun Herald Editorial, March 16, 2014

State Rep. David Baria has, we believe, identified a significant flaw in the Marine Resources Accountability and Reorganization Act now under consideration by the Legislature.

The bill would increase the accountability of the state Department of Marine Resources by requiring an annual audit. But it would also decrease the agency's accountability by removing DMR employees from civil service protection for one year.

"If there ever was an agency that needed to be held accountable, it is the DMR, considering what has gone on down there, and I don't believe it's appropriate to remove them from the protections of the state Personnel Board," said Baria, D-Waveland.

Other legislators, including state Rep. Jeffrey Guice, R-Ocean Springs, disagree.

"It's just dragging out the inevitable," said Guice said. "I don't believe the purpose of getting out from under the Personnel Board is about firing people. It's about reassigning people."

That may be true. But at this point, there's no way of knowing.

As the Sun Herald has reported, the DMR is contracting with Horne LLP for grant and accounting management assistance at a cost of $250,000.

If the DMR still needs that much outside assistance, then it hardly appears to be in a position to stand on its own.

DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller himself admits it will not be until Horne completes its contract that the DMR has a financial system in place that works and can be trusted.

"Honestly, I would say the system was broken," Miller said, "but it would be more accurate to say there wasn't a system at all."

It was that lack of financial controls and accountability that exposed taxpayers to a "high risk for fraud and abuse at the DMR according to Miller.

Hence the crafting of the Marine Resources Accountability and Reorganization Act by Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, and others.

And we should note that although we welcome and encourage enhanced accountability at the DMR, we are certain it is not the only agency of state government that could benefit from better and regular oversight.

That is why we continue to urge the Legislature to require annual audits, not just of the DMR, but of all state agencies, boards and commissions.

Because the State Auditor's Office has neither the staff nor the money to cover the cost of so many annual audits, the expense should come out of the individual agencies' budgets. That is, after all, what the state requires of each of its cities, counties and school districts.

Greater accountability should be the objective for all of state government.



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