Hoffer promises close scrutiny from auditors office
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | November 11,2012
MONTPELIER — A self-professed “numbers guy,” Doug Hoffer won’t miss the flesh-pressing required of political candidates in a state where retail politics still reign supreme.
“I’m the guy whose spent the last 19 years in my office, at my home, in front of my computer. It was very comfortable and manageable and insular,” Hoffer says. “And for all those months I had to be ‘on’ all the time. I was definitely out of my comfort zone.”
He played the role well enough, however, to earn victory in what proved to be Tuesday’s closest race for statewide office. The Burlington policy analyst is now beginning to contemplate his new role as Vermont’s next auditor of accounts.
The transition — the auditor’s office will be the lone statewide office to see a change in leadership next year — will be rather mundane. Hoffer has a meeting with the commissioner of human resources next week for a primer on the mechanics of running a 13-person state office.
Then there’s the matter of introducing himself to the team of auditors whose daily lives he’ll soon oversee.
“That’s really job number one,” Hoffer says. “We have to be on the same page. I have to get to know them. I have to ask them a million questions.”
While Hoffer isn’t ready to tip his hand yet on what specific areas of government he plans to train his fiscal magnifying glass, he has begun to develop an outline.
First up is the auditor’s website, where Hoffer plans to post his budget, and the line items to which the money is being disbursed.
The constitutional duties of the office have for the most part been outsourced to KPMG, which oversees the “single-audit” — a check on state programs receiving more than $500,000 in federal funds — as well as the audit of the state’s financial statements.
But Hoffer will decide where to focus the “discretionary” audits performed by office staff. High-dollar contracts at the Agency of Transportation are one area he plans to scrutinize.
“I think it’s just good practice for the auditor annually to pick one of the very large contracts at the Agency of Transportation and subject one of those contracts to an audit each year,” Hoffer says.
Hoffer says he has no evidence of waste or fraud on those contracts.
“But I think it’s just good practice to keep good eyes on big contracts,” he says. “If a vendor for example submits double bills, or bills the state for something that was not provided, that’s no different from stealing.”
Hoffer says his office could also be a resource for the Legislature or administration, either of which may be in need of a financial analysis for which they lack the resources to conduct.
“I want to meet with (House Speaker) Shap Smith and (Administration Secretary) Jeb Spaulding to find out what they see coming for the next two years and if they have ideas for ways the office could provide help,” Hoffer says. “If they’re tackling a big issue and feel like they could use information no one else can give quickly, maybe we can be of use in that regard.”
Hoffer also plans to scrutinize personal services contracts, which he says have ballooned to about $300 million annually. Much of that money is going to private-sector employees performing jobs formerly done by state employees.
“I would be curious to find out how that’s worked out for us,” Hoffer says. “It would be good to know whether it’s been a good decision, but we aren’t able to say right now one way or another.”