An auditor general oversees the state budget and programs and eliminates waste wherever possible. The office isn't purely focused on budget issues, however. An auditor general also has to make sure programs are performing their intended goals, that state departments and commissions are following laws and regulations, and that state resources are being used properly [source: State of Arizona Office of the Auditor General]. In addition, they set benchmarks, and accounting as well as reporting procedures for other state departments and programs.
An auditor general's specific authority and scope of his duties vary from state to state, and are defined by state law. For example, some state comptrollers have to approve a state budget before the governor can sign it, while others don't get directly involved with budget approval. All auditors general are supposed to maintain an impartial and apolitical stance, with their only goal being keeping the state government running smoothly. An auditor general is more like a business position than a political one, although politics can play a role in practice.
Here's a hypothetical example that shows how an auditor general's office works. The Florida State Legislature passes a law declaring that high school students need to increase their math scores on statewide proficiency tests. They enact a tax on beverages sold at schools; the funds will be used to fund math tutors, after-school math programs and a statewide math contest.
The auditor general would then track the amount of money collected from the tax, the amount actually spent on after-school programs, tutors and contests, and the amount of money used on the bureaucratic machinery required to collect and disburse the funds. Eventually, the office would add data on the math scores to assess the law's effectiveness and possibly offer recommendations on improving the program. If the law seems to be failing, the auditor general might order an investigation to find out why -- was the state hiring unqualified tutors? Were beverages vendors using a loophole to avoid paying the tax?
An auditor general's office can also help resolve conflicts among state agencies. A state environmental commission might find that a commerce commission isn't reporting environmental violations properly. Keeping separate parts of the state government running smoothly together can be an important responsibility of the auditor general.
Typically, an auditor general reports to the state legislature, which may request specific information or receive periodic updates. Some state's auditors report to the governor or to a committee within the legislature that in turn reports to the whole legislature. State laws will also mandate specific audits and compliance reviews. These completed audits are made public and presented to the legislature.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Illinois Auditor General. "Description." Accessed April 2, 2010. http://www.auditor.illinois.gov/About/description.asp
- Pennsylvania Office of the Auditor General. "Overview." Accessed April 2, 2010. http://www.auditorgen.state.pa.us/about/overview.html
- State of Arizona Office of the Auditor General. "Office Overview." Accessed April 2, 2010. http://www.auditorgen.state.az.us/overview.htm
- State of Florida Auditor General. "Vision Statement." Accessed April 2, 2010. http://www.myflorida.com/audgen/pages/vision.htm