Today, at 10a.m., Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner and officials from her office conducted an entrance meeting, and read into the official record, the absence of the officials from County administration who had received subpoenas to appear. Through County Solicitor, Andrew Szefi, the Controller’s office was notified on Friday, that the Administration would not appear as it awaited action on its previously filed motions to quash the subpoenas. Wagner noted, however that the filing of the motions, absent Court action, does not nullify the valid subpoenas, and therefore proceeded with the conference in order to record the absence of the Administration for the official record, which will be submitted to the Court of Common Pleas, in a legal request by Controller Wagner for the Courts to enforce the subpoenas.
The County Administration is contesting Wagner’s authority to conduct “performance audits” of County operations. Wagner noted that the Administration’s attempt to stand in the way of performance audits is an attempt to keep government activities confidential.
“Performance audits are the gold standard of auditing," Wagner said. "Our office has invested in training and other changes in order to bring this office up to date so they are doing these most impactful audits, which were not being done when I took over this office three years ago. It is deeply concerning that this Administration wants to keep auditing in the dark ages, and keep government information a secret. This is against public policy and all measures of transparency. I will continue fighting on behalf of the taxpayers who fund this government. This is the information they deserve to see.”
The County Controller’s Office adheres to Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS), which are issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office by the Comptroller of the United States. This is often referred to as the Yellow Book. These Standards, which establish professional standards to perform audits, include three types of audits: financial statement audits, attestation engagements and performance audits.
The administration is suggesting that the Controller should only do financial statement audits.
As defined in the Yellow Book, a financial statement audit’s primary purpose is to provide an opinion about whether an entity’s financial statements are presented fairly in all material respects. By contrast, a performance audit “provides objective analysis to assist management…to improve program performance and operations, reduce costs, facilitate decision making, and contribute to public accountability.”
“The Administration has claimed the Controller is the ‘chief bookkeeper.’ This should alarm and offend every taxpayer of Allegheny County. They only want us to do the audits that say whether the checkbook matches the bank statement. It is my duty to look into how money is being spent, not just make sure two plus two equals four. It is time for Mr. Fitzgerald to understand that this is taxpayer money, and he cannot keep this information hidden from the public.”
Controller Wagner is seeking an audit of the Police Department’s operations and application of resources. After the Department challenged Wagner’s authority to perform the audit and refused to cooperate, Wagner subpoenaed the three County administrators to meet to discuss the audit’s objective, scope and next steps. Until recently, no County department has ever challenged the County Controller’s authority to audit it. Wagner has also been working for months to initiate audits seeking a review of contracting processes at the Airport Authority, Port Authority and the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, and a review of ticket distribution by the Sports and Exhibition Authority, but each authority has failed to cooperate. Wagner’s office is currently conducting a performance audit of First Vehicle Services, which began on February 6.
“This is what I was elected to do, to ensure that government is operating efficiently and effectively,” Wagner said. “The Administration may not like it, but that is why the Controller is independently elected. Their continued efforts to stop the Controller’s office will not deter us. Unfortunately, we will now have to proceed in Court.”