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North Dakota state auditor surprised by legislative move to restrict authority

State Auditor Josh Gallion presents his Governor's Travel and Use of State Resources report to members of the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee on Wednesday at the state Capitol in Bismarck. Bismarck Tribune photo

BISMARCK — North Dakota's state auditor said he was surprised by the Legislature's last-minute move to restrict his ability to launch audits Thursday, April 25.

The budget bill for State Auditor Josh Gallion's office requires that he receive lawmakers' blessing to launch performance audits, which are different than the regular examinations of a state agency's books. In recent years, performance audits have discovered an "inappropriate" use of state planes by the governor's office as well as ethical and bookkeeping concerns with the state Department of Trust Lands.

Gallion, a Republican first elected in 2016, said the amendment was added earlier this week during a House-Senate conference committee in the session's final days.

"It was a surprise to me," he said. "It all happened very quickly."

Gallion said the new requirements will slow down the auditing process. The Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee, which would need to approve his request to launch performance audits, meets infrequently, he said.

Moreover, giving lawmakers the ability to block performance audits could allow political considerations into the process, Gallion said.

During a floor debate Thursday, some lawmakers argued the move was intended to ensure communication between the Legislature and the auditor. Republican Rep. Jeff Delzer, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the new language "really doesn't change much" about current practice.

"The job of the auditor is to keep people out of trouble, not to go out there looking for trouble," said Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley.

Bismarck Republican Rep. Rick Becker called the restrictions "very concerning" and said they could "solidify the good ol' boys club concept."

"What if the person or the agency ... that the auditor is looking into happens to be pretty chummy with whoever in the future may be on (the legislative committee)?" he said.

The bill was sent to Republican Gov. Doug Burgum Thursday, and he could veto the section restricting the auditor's authority. A spokesman said the governor typically doesn't comment on pending legislation.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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