There are 375 state agencies across the Commonwealth, and the state auditor’s office is charged with ferreting out waste and fraud in each one of them. It’s a daunting task, and the office benefits if the person leading it has extensive auditing expertise. While Suzanne Bump, a Democrat who won the office in the 2010 election, has worked to turn around the auditor’s office after years of stagnation under her predecessor, Joe DeNucci, questions remain about her suitability for the role. Her Republican opponent, Patricia Saint Aubin, has more relevant professional expertise.
While the state auditor’s role is largely a managerial one — the office employs about 140 auditors — the head of the office still needs to be able to assess the quality of the audits conducted. Saint Aubin has the training and experience needed to do this. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Providence College in accounting, and has worked as a professional auditor for Shawmut Bank and a brokerage manager for John Hancock Mutual Life.
Bump, on the other hand, doesn’t have these sorts of qualifications. She’s argued that the auditor should function as a kind of management consultant for state government. This approach has had its successes — her office did a notable investigation into electronic benefit transfer card fraud last year — and she should be commended for the steps she took to professionalize the office, such as removing auditors who didn’t have the qualifications needed to do the job properly.
But there are indications the office is still struggling. The number of audits Bump and her team have conducted has decreased every year she’s been in office, from 133 in 2011 to fewer than 70 last year. (According to state law, each agency must be examined once every three years, which requires the auditor to conduct 125 audits a year.) Bump contends that there has been a corresponding uptick in the quality of the work done by the office. But it’s not clear the auditor’s office is casting a wide enough net. For example, Bump’s 2013 audit of the Department of Environmental Protection — which received $55 million in state funding that year — only examined the agency’s policies toward automobiles and its procurement practices for cellphones. Saint Aubin argues that abuses are more likely to be identified when more agencies are audited in a systematic way.
Another question mark is a lawsuit that Bump is facing from a former staffer, Laura Marlin, who alleges that Bump conducted electioneering activities out of her State House office. Being sued is not evidence of guilt, and Bump denies the accusations, which she chalks up to a disgruntled employee. Then again, Marlin wasn’t a low-level holdover from the DeNucci era. She served as Bump’s campaign manager in 2010, and subsequently served as her first deputy auditor. It appears that, at a minimum, Bump failed to keep the auditor’s office entirely free of campaign-related activities.