Number of state boards grows, audit says better oversight needed

Number of state boards grows, audit says better oversight needed
Source: Secretary of State's audit of boards and commissions. From page 6 of the report.

PORTLAND, Ore. – While Oregon continues to add boards and commissions to its roster, a new audit released Wednesday found the state can be doing a better job of keeping tabs on them.

Auditors with the secretary of state found there are now over 250 boards and commissions in existence in the state, and they said "it is likely there are many more." Auditors said they couldn't nail down an exact number because there is no central listing of boards and commissions and in many cases auditors found things like contact information and current membership were not "readily accessible."

The data auditors gathered show a clear trajectory upward in the number of boards and commissions created over the years despite numerous efforts by state leaders to curtail growth or consolidate some of them.

State lawmakers continued the trend in the 2011 legislative session. Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law 24 new boards, including his high-profile Oregon Education Investment Board and at least two others associated with his vision of streamlining the state’s education system.

The governor did, however, sign bills that eliminated eight boards, but the net effect of that session was an additional 16.

The governor's office did not return phone calls Wednesday for comment on the audit. But a spokeswoman for Kitzhaber, Amy Wojcicki, sent a statement that read, in part, "We have reviewed the audit and support its conclusions. State boards and commissions play an important role in involving the public in state government, and the Governor is committed to ensuring they operate effectively and with accountability."

Auditors also concluded they play an important role in the state by incorporating "subject matter experts and diverse stakeholder views to fulfill governmental functions and engage interested citizens in Oregon government."

But auditors found that smaller boards with only a handful of members were more susceptible to making errors, engaging in fraudulent activity or abuse. They also said boards that delegate broad authority to executive directors with little oversight are also more likely to get themselves in hot water or perform poorly.

In other cases, auditors said members lack sufficient training that can lead to poor performance, errors, abuse or confusion over what is expected of them. Auditors noted, however, that many boards and commissions provide good training for their members.

Auditors recommended seven specific goals for the governor, Department of Administrative Services and the Legislature to consider. They are: a comprehensive list of all boards; consider strategies other states have used; good training; revise unclear laws that govern boards and commissions; require fiscal and operational reports; establish a clear complaint process against the board and its members; and a periodic review process to identify boards that could be eliminated or consolidated.

According to spokeswoman Andrea Cantu-Schomus, the secretary of state’s office initiated the audit on its own.

"We were aware that there are a large number of boards and commissions and that they fulfill an important role in Oregon government," she said. But because past audits found problems "including inappropriate expenditures ... we believed an audit of boards and commissions would be beneficial."

Auditors did not specifically recommend the elimination of any boards and commissions. Cantu-Schomus said the objective was to give an overview of them and to create a general direction for improvement. 

"Although we indicated a sunset-type review might be appropriate in a couple cases, actually performing the reviews would have been time consuming and was beyond the scope of our work," she said.