The Legislative Audit Bureau has been the source of some bad news lately for Republicans and the the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation they created in 2011.
Now, two GOP lawmakers have a solution: eliminate the bureau.
State Reps. David Craig, R-Big Bend, and Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, are looking for co-sponsors for their proposal to abolish the audit bureau and replace it with independent inspectors general who would be placed in state agencies.
"Most if not all legislators believe the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) does a tremendous job of executing audits of state agency books," reads an email the two representatives sent to fellow lawmakers. "Unfortunately, the statutory process under which the LAB operates focuses more on retrospective examination rather than proactive fiscal action and bad practice deterrence. In many instances, by the time an audit has occurred the political will (or new legislative composition) necessary to change a state program has diminished."
In recent years, the audit bureau has uncovered numerous problems with the state's flagship job creation agency, which is chaired by Gov. Scott Walker.
Most recently, the LAB uncovered millions in loans that were written off or forgiven after the recipient companies failed to deliver promised jobs.
In 2013 the bureau uncovered widespread mismanagement of state money provided as loans and credits to businesses, as well as revealing that WEDC staff had used the quasi-public agency's credit cards to buy alcohol and football tickets.
Walker, who is laying the groundwork for a run for the presidency, scrapped his own proposal to merge WEDC with the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority hours after an audit last month unveiled a new round of problems.
The email from Craig and Jarchow says that the inspectors general would report waste, fraud and abuse to the Department of Justice and to legislative committee leaders. An analysis of the bill by the Legislative Reference Bureau says the bill would allow the Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader to direct the inspectors to "audit the records of any state agency or program or any county, city, village, town, or school district."
Craig and Jarchow didn't immediately return calls for comment.
"Why would legislators want to do away with the Legislative Audit Bureau?" said state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, the Democratic caucus vice chair. "Could it be they don't want to know what's happening?"
Vinehout said the bill, which hasn't been formally introduced, would put audits under the direction of the leaders in the GOP-controlled Legislature, as opposed to the current system of having the LAB overseen by a bipartisan legislative committee.
"The breadth of their ignorance of the LAB is staggering," Vinehout said. "It shows a complete unfamiliarity with the skills of the auditors, the efficiencies in government that the LAB helped create, with the fraud, waste and abuse that the auditors have discovered, and further prevented through their oversight."
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, called the proposal one of the worst ideas in a legislative session fraught with bad ideas.
“Changing the nonpartisan, award-winning Legislative Audit Bureau into partisan appointees continues the Republican efforts to reduce oversight of state government," he said. "The move would allow for more partisan and special-interest influence and further erode Wisconsin’s tradition of clean, open and transparent government."
He also questioned the timing of the proposal, "coming on the heels of the extremely critical audit of the Walker Administration's WEDC, which has been rife with mismanagement and perceived cronyism."
Vinehout noted that GOP lawmakers have also proposed to end the audit bureau's auditing function over the University of Wisconsin at a time when Republicans are set to give the university more autonomy in purchasing and bidding some UW building projects.
"This is making the UW ripe for corruption," she said.