(Jefferson City) (AP) – A state audit questioned Thursday whether the Missouri lieutenant governor’s office has the authority to create a planned government waste reporting website and whether his office can ensure the confidentiality of tipsters who use it.
The Missouri Waste Report aims to help government employees and the public to report examples of government waste and abuse. Lawmakers increased the budget of Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder’s office by about $38,000 to pay for it. Through July, the office spent about $2,700 with another $1,189 coming from Kinder’s campaign committee. The website is not yet online.
A regularly scheduled audit of the lieutenant governor’s office rated its overall performance as “good” while raising questions about the website. Auditors said the lieutenant governor generally lacks statutory authority to investigate suspicions of misused money, and that means the office does not have legal authority to access information to properly review allegations. There also is no authority to shield reports and the people lodging them from disclosure under Missouri’s open records law.
Further, the auditor’s office said other officials and agencies have the authority to investigate fraud and misuse of public funds.
The Missouri lieutenant governor advocates for seniors and military veterans, serves on state housing, tourism, and other commissions and presides over the 34-member Senate while breaking tie votes. The officeholder also takes over if the governor dies or is removed from office. Kinder is serving his third term.
Deputy Auditor Harry Otto said the waste reporting website is well-intentioned.
Yet, “there’s no specific statutory authority for the lieutenant governor’s office to have this website, and once it’s established, there’s a question of how much authority he would have to pursue an investigation and how could he require state agencies, divisions, boards to respond to his requests,” Otto said.
Otto led the audit because state Auditor Tom Schweich recused himself from reports involving Kinder. Schweich, a Republican, received $220,000 from Kinder during the 2010 auditor’s election.
Kinder pointed to his office’s overall “good” rating Thursday.
“I am pleased to receive a good rating from the auditor’s office, which shows that our office is well-managed and that the fiscal controls we have in place are sound and effective,” he said.
The lieutenant governor’s office said in a written response included with the audit that previous lieutenant governors have used the office for purposes absent specific statutory authority. It said that as the state’s official advocate for seniors, Kinder has authority to investigate allegations of “of waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars detrimental to our already vulnerable senior citizens.” Further, it noted Kinder’s role with several government boards and commissions gives him an interest in ensuring public funds are prudently spent.
Kinder’s office said it also plans to request legislation letting it keep confidential the reports it receives. Missouri lawmakers return to the Capitol in January.