David Shenk was recently appointed by county legislators to the position of Erie County, NY Comptroller. Shenk is now running for election for a four year term. In every election for Erie County Comptroller the issues always revolve around:
1) Being independent from the Erie County Executive
2) Being a strong taxpayer “watchdog”

In a recent interview Comptroller Shenk explained that one of the reforms he is implementing is “I want to double the number of signatures employees need to spend and account for taxpayer money.”

As a government employee myself for 17 years, I know how frustrating and inefficient the bureaucracy can be. To get anything done in government typically requires multiple levels of approval. Doubling the number of signatures needed to spend and account for money is not the type of reform needed in government. I understand the need for controls to ensure that public funds are not stolen. Instead of simply doubling signatures, I would love to see a Comptroller go beyond tracking dollars and use their office to improve the efficiency and performance of government by conducting Performance Audits.

Performance audits examine programs, functions, operations or the management systems and procedures to assess whether an entity is achieving economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the employment of available resources. Just like Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, Performance Audits have standards and methods that are followed.

The Charter in Pierce County Washington requires that performance audits of county departments be completed. Below is part of the Pierce County Charter:

Performance audits, for example, may:
1. Determine the extent to which desired outcomes or results are being achieved, the causes for either achieving or not achieving intended outcomes or results, and whether County policy, laws, and rules are being complied with in an efficient and economical manner;
2. Analyze whether resources, such as personnel, property, and space, are being used economically and efficiently, and report the causes of any inefficiencies or uneconomical practices;
3. Examine the costs and benefits of County programs, departments, functions, and activities;
4. Identify viable and objective alternatives and recommendations for reducing costs, improving service delivery, and monitoring corrective action;
5. Determine the existence and utility of a department, agency, or program’s strategic plan, which includes comparing the department’s or program’s mission, measurable goals, and clear strategies with the timeliness to achieve those goals; and
6. Develop a workable, affordable plan for a department, program, activity, or function to improve performance and/or efficiency, where appropriate.

The City of Buffalo Charter requires that the City Comptroller conduct two performance audits per year utilizing an independent consultant. As far as I know this section of the City Charter has not been followed. The Erie County Charter also provides the Comptroller the authority to conduct management and performance audits, which if they have been conducted at all are a rare occurence at best.

Instead of creating more bureaucracy in government, perhaps we can get more Comptrollers at the local level to conduct performance audits in an effort to make government operations more efficient?