BLUFFTON — Nine months ago, Ohio Auditor Keith Faber traded the “policy hat” he earned as a legislator for an auditor’s “referee jersey,” and since then, he’s been using the new role to improve upon local and state agencies.
Faber spent Tuesday morning in Bluffton, where he spoke on his recently elected role as the state auditor during a presentation titled “Business is Better in Sunlight.” Used as the keynote address for the Bluffton University Business Competition, Faber’s speech highlighted a number of tools the state auditor’s office utilizes to ensure that public dollars are used efficiently and effectively.
The first of those tools — the standard audit — is the most well-known. By comparing records and balances of a number of accounts, audits act as an effective method of determining whether an organization’s financial records are accurate. Because of its role in state government, the Ohio Auditor’s Office is responsible for auditing 6,000 different agencies and municipalities. Documents of such audits are then posted publicly online.
While the majority of his office is tasked with conducting such audits, Faber said another division — full of law enforcement officials — takes care of fraud cases. Contrary to popular opinion, audits don’t often catch fraud, so the state relies on tip lines to begin a number of investigations. While some of these tips end up going nowhere, others result in criminal cases.
A good example of the auditor’s work on fraud cases, Faber said, is Shawnee schools’ past problems with individuals stealing from the school district. Faber specifically mentioned the story of Kimberly Hall, who pleaded guilty to theft of office after stealing more than $56,000 in total from the school district and a local boosters organization. Hall was sentenced to two years of probation, 80 hours of community service and restitution in October 2018.
“She took all the cash for the yearbook and some of the cash for lunches and other cash transactions to also maintain the Shawnee baseball boosters accounts. Any auditors in training see any red flags here?” Faber said. “By the way, if any of you worked with school districts or some school districts, let me give you one of our biggest red flags. Booster groups. … I always say that you need to make sure that your booster groups have the same checks and balances, have the same integrity level than the rest of your operations.”
Faber also named a number of other fraud red flags that the office uses to check into potential misuse or theft of government dollars. Such red flags include employees who refuse to take time off or act as if they are irreplaceable by not allowing others to do their job or learn their job. Other red flags include a system where a single employee makes all the major deposits and high volumes of voided transactions.
As for the the amount of fraud in public agencies, Faber said the number of actual crimes perpetrated by public officials is relatively small. At any one time, the state office could be investigating roughly 140 criminal cases dealing with fraud. In comparison, 20,000 to 30,000 Ohioans are responsible for public dollars in some way, and most bookkeeping problems found by the auditor’s office tend to be due to a lack of education.
“When we see problems most times, it’s because someone is making mistakes,” Faber said.
The third responsibility of the Ohio Auditors Office that Faber mentioned Tuesday is the state’s performance audits, which Faber has promoted in the past as a way to save public dollars. For example, a past performance audit costing the state $300,000 conducted for The Ohio State University ended up creating an opportunity to save $6.5 million for the university — an 18 to 1 return on investment.
Faber is looking to do something similar for the Ohio Department of Transportation and the state’s Medicaid system, which could help him get closer to his goal of saving the state $1 billion during the two four-year-terms Faber can serve as the state’s auditor.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.