In The News › Plan to defund Louisiana inspector office incurs watchdog groups’ howls

Plan to defund Louisiana inspector office incurs watchdog groups’ howls

May 9, 2012
By Jeff Adelson
The Times-Picayune

Two public policy research groups this week condemned a move to eliminate the state investigator general’s office in advance of a Louisiana House vote on the state budget. The Public Affairs Research Council and the Bureau of Governmental Research blasted a measure by Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Houma, eliminating its financing from the state’s spending plan for next year. The investigator general is tasked with investigating fraud and abuse in state government, a duty worth more than the $1.7 million it takes to run the office, statements from the two groups argue.

“But there appears to be little merit to the argument that the inspector general’s office is a wasteful expense, except perhaps for those who are discomforted by forceful investigations,” according to PAR’s report.

Referring to the state’s overall budget, BGR referred to the cost as “a drop in a $25 billion budget.”

The inspector general’s office was created by former Gov. Buddy Roemer and given the power of a law enforcement agency in 2008. PAR noted a variety of successful investigations the office has undertaken, ranging from improper overtime given state employees to fraudulent disaster relief payments to illegal use of law enforcement databases.

Harrison’s amendment gained approval from the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday before the amended version of the state budget, contained in House Bill 1, was approved. The full House is expected to consider the measure Thursday.

The representative argued the measure would streamline state government and that other agencies, including the Legislative Auditor’s Office and Attorney General’s Office, could pick up the duties now performed by the inspector general.

Noting that the office uncovered about $3.2 million in fraud and waste last year, BGR said the amendment “cannot be justified in the name of efficiency.”

BGR’s report focused on the relatively low cost of the state office compared with localized watchdog efforts. The New Orleans inspector general received about $3.7 million this year, and the newly created Jefferson Parish’s office is expected to receive about $1.2 million when it starts operations. Each of those offices supervises governments whose yearly spending would account for only a few percentage points of the state budget, the report notes.

PAR also argued that elimination of the office would damage the state’s reputation.

“A sudden halt in funding of the inspector general would terminate ongoing investigations and send a message nationwide that Louisiana government is open for corrupt or wasteful business,” PAR said.

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