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State Auditor Makes Sure Tax Money Is Being Used As Intended

State Auditor Beth Wood
Office of the State Auditor

Governor McCrory has released his budget for the next two years. He’s now got to work with state legislators to try to get his initiatives passed. And after the budget becomes law, it’s State Auditor Beth Wood’s job to make sure that more than $20 billion a year of state money is used as lawmakers intend it to be. Her office also audits $23 billion in federal grants. Duncan McFadyen spoke to Auditor Wood to find out more about what she does.

WOOD: We have to do financial statement audits to ensure that the financial information is correct to whoever wants to use those financial statements: our bond ratings agencies, our accreditation community for our universities and community colleges, and then the federal government has to be satisfied that all the 23 billion [dollars] that we received in the state, that we’ve used it properly. But then, we also perform what we call performance audits, where we go out and look at how that money was spent. Were the objectives of that program or that agency, were they accomplished? Did they duplicate effort, did they waste our moneys? Did they spend it for the intended purpose? And, then we have an investigative unit, that, if any citizen or any employee of the state is aware that maybe moneys are being misappropriated or misspent. We have an investigative unit that goes out and investigates those allegations.

MCFADYEN: Right, and I know the general assembly sometimes will call for audits as well?

WOOD: They do, they actually were the ones that called for the audit on the Medicaid system that we just completed and released in February. And they’re starting to request more and more audits.

MCFADYEN: And do you actually make recommendations, or do you just take it to the point of, “here’s what we’ve identified is wrong” and then pass it along?

WOOD: We make recommendations within our audits, but we can’t step in place and do what management…we can’t make the decisions for management.

MCFADYEN: There’s a spot on your website and you have a hotline as well---citizens can tip you off to something if they see something that could be fraudulent. How often does that happen, and has that ever led to a major discovery?

WOOD: When you get information...probably one of the biggest ones that we have found through our hotline was when you had the consortium of twelve universities that, each university was putting money into this consortium, and the money was supposed to be used for children, at risk children, and after school programs. And, we found that the head of that consortium had skimmed off a million dollars and put it into a separate personal bank account.

MCFADYEN: One more question, you do hold an elected, political office, and you’re a Democrat.

WOOD: Yes.

MCFADYEN: But you have to work with members of both parties, and in fact, recently Governor McCrory, a Republican, has appeared with you. Does it ever make it difficult for you to be sort of above politics and also a Democrat at the same time, a member of a party?

WOOD: It does not. I don’t run this office with solely the intent of getting re-elected. I am a CPA. My license requires that I will be independent and objective, that I will approach everything I do with an independent and objective mindset. Everybody that works here has to do the same thing. Opinions and biases are not allowed in this office, because while I am a Democrat, I am a CPA first, and I have a license by which I have to remain compliant, and I have to do this job in relation to that license.

MCFADYEN: So why have it a partisan office anyway?

WOOD: Well, that’s a question that gets asked a lot. It’s constitutional, but at the same time, it’s always been political. I think I’m only the second CPA that’s ever served in this office, in this seat, and the office has been in existence since the 1890s. And so, I think more and more people are realizing that it’s not about the party, because we don’t make policy, we don’t push policy, we have nothing to do with policy. I audit policy, rules, regulations. And so, I think more and more people are seeing that it’s really about the competencies and the talent to sit in this seat and not the party affiliation.