The author of a proposal to abolish the Legislative Audit Bureau said the move didn’t have anything to do with scathing audits of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
“This was not in response to anything having to do with WEDC other than that this is targeting bad behavior and spending abuses by any state agency,” said state Rep. David Craig, R-Big Bend.
The proposal, unveiled on Monday, has taken criticism from both sides of the aisle, with Democrats accusing Craig of retaliating against the audit bureau and some Republican leaders defending the nonpartisan government watchdog. Assembly Speak Robin Vos, R-Burlington, has said he won’t support the bill in its current form. And the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Audit Committee have spoken out against dismantling the bureau.
Government watchdog groups have blasted the proposal as well.
Craig said of the criticism, "It's nothing that I didn't expect."
He also said he wants to introduce the proposal during the current budget process.
"I think this is a budget-related conversation that we need to have," he said.
The Legislative Audit Bureau has released audits of WEDC, a quasi-public job creation agency chaired by Gov. Scott Walker, alleging widespread mismanagement and mishandling of funds.
Craig wants to replace the LAB with a system of inspectors general assigned to large state agencies that would practice ongoing vigilance that he said would hopefully prevent the kinds of problems uncovered at WEDC.
“Under my plan, an inspector general would have been in that agency, for one thing deterring bad practice, and for another thing having carte blanche to go through whatever documents they needed to go through to make sure the agency was following the law,” he said. “So I would hope that under my plan that would have actually deterred the bad behavior from happening in the first place.”
He said he is open to discussing changes to the proposal, such as keeping the audit bureau and installing inspectors general as a proactive measure.
“If we have both the inspectors general and the audit bureau doing the same thing, yeah, I guess that’s fine,” he said. “In my estimation the inspector general could do both — both be a proactive fiscal force inside the agencies reporting to the Legislature as their bosses, and do the reporting items that are required of the audit bureau. I think that’s something that could be done with one body.”
His proposal would also put the appointments of the inspectors in the hands of a joint legislative committee, currently controlled by Republicans, which has generated criticism that it would politicize the audit process.
But Craig said the process for appointing the inspectors would be the same as the one currently used to select directors for the Legislative Audit Bureau, the Legislative Reference Bureau, which provides research services for the Legislature, and the Legislative Council, which provides staff for legislative committees.
“The hiring practice for the inspectors general under the bill is done the same way that the head of the LAB is hired right now,” Craig said. “They are subject to six-year terms which intentionally stagger not only the duration of an individual Legislature but also the term of the governor, specifically to insulate them from the political process as much as we can.”
Craig said he has garnered some support for the bill. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, has signed on as a co-sponsor, and Craig said he has a week to line up others.
“I would expect introduction shortly thereafter,” he said.