What is a state auditor, and why doesn’t Texas have one?

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What is a state auditor?

The state auditor oversees the State Auditor’s Office, an independent auditing firm of the Texas government that performs audits, reviews and investigations of any organization or entity that takes money from the Texas government.

The office explores an agency’s finances, efficiency and effectiveness, among other qualities within each audit. This is important because the State Auditor’s Office points out when an agency is abusing state resources or committing fraud.

Why doesn’t Texas have one?

In November 2015, the last state auditor John Keel announced his intention to step down from his post in January 2016 after 11 years in the position. During his term, Keel examined the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Health and Human Services Commission, both of which resulted in changes to the way each entity operated.

Since January 2016, the Legislative Audit Committee, which is responsible for appointing a new state auditor, has not met to name Keel’s successor.

What does Texas need to do to get a state auditor?

For a new auditor to be appointed, the LAC, a committee made up of six members, must meet. The committee is currently comprised of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, Sen. Bob Nichols, R-Jacksonville and Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

The committee last met in 2007, as was stated in a House Appropriations Committee meeting. Last month marked one year without someone in the chief role at the State Auditor’s Office. This is the first time such a vacancy has remained for this long of a period in the office’s 73-year history. The Legislature does not need to be in session for the House Appropriations Committee to meet.

What might be missed in the meantime?

Without a permanent state auditor, Lisa Collier, the First Assistant State Auditor, or deputy auditor, is serving in the lead role. Some speculate an interim holder of the position would not be able to tackle large projects or make sweeping changes within the office, holding back the agency from progressing too far.

The absence of a state auditor, who oversees the biggest oversight agency in the state of Texas, comes as a surprise to some during a time in which ethics reform has been so highly lauded as a priority. In his State of the State Address, Gov. Greg Abbott called for ethics reform throughout the government, naming it one of his four emergency items. It was the second time Abbott has publicly pushed for ethics reform.

Abbott was not immediately available for comment.

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