July 2011

Chair's Corner: Kathy McGuire, Florida OPPAGA

Kathy McGuire

Often our legislators ask, “How are they solving this problem in other states?” and our NLPES network is a great way to get that answer quickly. Sharing research methods and findings is a vital part of providing timely information to our legislatures. There are several opportunities coming up in the next few months for sharing our wealth of information.

Right now, while you are planning your summer training, take advantage of our online library! Our NLPES website includes numerous training jewels from many states, including podcasts, narrated PowerPoints, and slide shows on fieldwork, writing and publication, and management topics, including finding savings, reviewing state agency contracts, developing surveys, using pivot tables, and strategic planning for legislative oversight offices. Many of these sessions are set up in 50 minute formats to meet yellow book training requirements, or can be grouped to do so. We want to keep expanding this collection with the best from all of our offices across the country, so expect a call this summer to ask for your help! 

We will also be releasing more short, informative podcasts during the summer, compliments of Karl Spock of Texas Sunset. If you have ideas you would like to hear about, please let Karl know! 

I’m very excited about our upcoming NLPES professional development seminar in Denver, September 19-21. In addition to the great line-up of conference panels, Pew’s Results First program will host a half-day session the morning of the 19th on cost-benefit analysis models, featuring models developed by Washington State. Some $750 stipends will be available to help offset the costs of participating in the pre-conference and conference; details to follow! The annual summit in San Antonio, August 8-11, will also provide networking and learning opportunities.

Thanks for the many applications for NLPES awards; the Awards Committee will announce the winners soon! 

This is the real strength of NLPES—our continual engagement and sharing of ideas. A recent NCSL survey found that NLPES web pages are getting the most hits of any of the staff sections. Let’s continue to make the most of our shared intelligence. As I conclude my term and hand the gavel over to Scott Sager, the incoming chair of the NLPES Executive Committee, I want to express my heart-felt admiration for you, for the important work you do in our democracy and your commitment to good government. Thank you for your dedication and just plain hard work.! Kathy McGuire

Recent NCSL Webinars

  • “Public Pensions: Truth or Scare?” March 18, 2011

For additional details, please visit: http://www.ncsl.org/?TabId=22204

Recent NCSL LegisBriefs

Upcoming meetings or seminars:

Legislative Summit 2011August 8-11, 2011, San Antonio, Texas. 

Legislative Staff Management Institute (LSMI), Aug. 27 - Sept. 3, 2011, Sacramento, Calif. 

Report RadarWriting with a Pen

Report Radar
(Angus Mciver, Legislative Audit Division, Montana)

Spring has sprung (or is springing) across the land and the year’s first quarter has produced an abundant crop of exciting new audit and evaluation reports. 

With the economy and jobs still dominating the headlines, audit shops in California and Michigan both released reports in March looking at unemployment insurance. Both reports provide excellent reviews of their state’s efforts to manage unemployment insurance funds against a backdrop of rising job losses and looming insolvency. 

The down economy has also been driving growth in state Medicaid expenditures and three member offices have tackled different aspects of the Medicaid monster in recent months. In February, New Mexico released an evaluation of a program coordinating long-term care services (nursing homes, community-based services etc.). The Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations released a report in March addressing problems with Medicaid claims processing and our colleagues in Kansas issued a report in March looking at the use of emergency room services by Medicaid recipients.

Retirement systems also continue to attract the attention of state legislatures. Back in December of 2010, Montana released a performance audit addressing inflation of retirement benefits or pension spiking in state retirement systems. Florida has also recently addressed retirement systems, with a February report reviewing investment management practices. April saw the release by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts of a second installment of work reviewing the issue of re-employed retirees (employees who retire, begin claiming a pension, and then return to work in the same or similar positions). 

Controlling costs in corrections and state prisons also continues to be a productive area for audit and evaluation teams. December reports from Hawaii and Mississippi looked at different corrections issues. The Hawaii report addressed contracting for prison services and reviewed the practice of transferring inmates to out-of-state facilities. Mississippi released a pair of interesting reports, one analyzing cost per inmate per day in the state’s corrections system and the other included a breakeven analysis for regional corrections institutions. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor also has two reports on corrections issues; one looks at adult offenders, the other addresses youth offenders and they are both rewarding reads.

Education issues were also highlighted in three very diverse audit/evaluation reports. The Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit regularly reports on school district expenditures for athletics activities (an interesting component of the school funding picture); a January report from West Virginia considered the issue of school district consolidation through a case study of the effects of consolidation on educational outcomes; and the higher education sector was addressed in a January report to the Connecticut Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee, which looked at the overall governance structure for the state’s university system.

Other noteworthy reports that attracted our attention recently included Colorado’s review of administrative leave policies, and a South Carolina report on procurement cards (always a popular topic). Our member offices also continued to lead on emerging issues; Minnesota released a report in March addressing the issue of civil commitment of sex offenders, which could be an issue other states will be taking-up in the near future.

We would recommend any or all of these fine reports as excellent reading materials in the coming months (what else are you going to do with all that free time?) Keep up the good work and we look forward to updating you soon with more reports that should be on your radar.

State Profile

Tim Elwell

 Arizona Office of the Auditor General: Performance Audit Division
(Patrick Goldsmith, Performance Audit Division, Legislative Auditor’s Office, Louisiana)

 Responsibilities

The Performance Audit Division (PAD) within the Arizona Auditor General’s Office (Office) is responsible for conducting performance audits, sunset reviews, and special audits of state programs. We have a special team dedicated to performance audits of Arizona’s Child Protective Services program. Another division in our office is responsible for performance audits of school districts.

Staff Backgrounds

Like almost every other workplace in Arizona, we have people from all over who came to our beautiful state for the sunshine. Although we do have at least four native Arizonans, our staff of 30 also hail from California, Canada, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Our staff have various degrees from several universities. Several of us hail from Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, or Brigham Young University, but some of us have obtained degrees from universities ranging from California Lutheran to the University of Wyoming and from Northwestern to the University of Texas – San Antonio. Degrees include MPAs, MBAs, Masters in Public Policy, and Masters in Library Science. We feel that the various degrees from different universities add diversity and strength to our division and Office. 

In fact, our strength is our people. We benefit from strong leadership from the Auditor General and Deputy Auditor General and from staff who are genuinely interested in using their diverse skills and abilities to improve state government. Comments frequently heard from those who have been with our Office for several years and why they remain include the ability to work with talented individuals who are committed to serving Arizona and helping to improve state government so that it can better serve Arizona citizens.

Challenging Assignments

We pride ourselves in being responsive to legislative requests for audits and information. Occasionally, we are requested (required) to undertake somewhat difficult audit assignments within very tight time frames. For example, we received a request approximately two years ago to research and review options for reorganizing and restructuring the State’s Office of Pest Management. During the initial stages of the audit, a legislator asked us to complete our audit and issue an audit report prior to the beginning of the January 2010 legislative session. This request was made at the beginning of October 2009. The Office and the Division responded to this request, conducted in-depth research and analysis regarding the options to restructure this agency, and met the deadline for issuing the report. The Arizona Legislature took action on the report’s recommendations during its 2011 legislative session.

Additionally, state law requires us to audit the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority (Authority) every 5 years. The Authority operates the University of Phoenix football stadium, which is home to the Arizona Cardinals and the Fiesta Bowl. The Authority also distributes monies for constructing or renovating Cactus League baseball facilities for spring training and distributes monies for the development of youth and amateur sports facilities. However, in addition to the 5-year audit requirement, during the 2010 legislative session, the Legislature passed a bill requiring our Office to undertake a comprehensive review of the Authority. The legislation required us to research and respond to 17 complex questions and to issue a report on or before December 31, 2010. The division, along with help from the Office’s Financial Audit Division, stepped up to this challenge and conducted the most comprehensive review of the Authority that it has performed. We reviewed virtually every aspect of the Authority’s operations, from its finances to its operations to its procurement activities. We were even able to issue the report two weeks prior to the deadline, which afforded the team members some much needed time off during the holidays. 

Why We’re Lucky

Our Office has a wide array of experts who strengthen our work and expand the variety of topics we can tackle. We’re one of the few offices with a full-time methodologist on staff who consults with all our teams. We also have a research librarian – if she can’t locate something, it’s because it doesn’t exist. Our Office’s IT group helps us with analyses and advises us on data validation and IT security issues as well as keeping our equipment running. Two editors ensure our written reports are up to snuff, while our training coordinator makes sure staff can develop needed skills. Last but not least, because our Office’s largest division, financial audit, is full of CPAs who regularly audit the same entities we review, we have access to a wealth of knowledge and specialized skills.

And we also take time to celebrate our accomplishments and have fun together as an Office! Our Office Management Group hosts several office-wide events throughout the year including an annual meeting followed by a picnic at a local park, which includes friendly games of competition such as volleyball and bocce ball; an ice cream social; and a Halloween party complete with pumpkin carving, costume, and dessert contests.

More on page 2

NLPES Logo

The National Legislative Program Evaluation Society (NLPES) is one of ten staff sections associated with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). NLPES includes employees of state legislative agencies engaged in program evaluation or performance auditing.

The purpose of NLPES is to advance the profession of legislative program evaluation and performance auditing and to provide members with relevant training, opportunities for exchanging ideas and information, and recognition for superior performance. Interested persons whose professional work precludes membership may request to affiliate with NLPES. Affiliates are invited to participate in NLPES activities and promote the Society's interests, but only members can vote in NLPES elections and hold an elective office. NLPES does not charge dues.

NLPES holds its Networking and Awards Luncheon in conjunction with NCSL's Legislative Summit. The outgoing chair presides over the Networking and Awards Luncheon where staff section activities are discussed, committee reports are given and members of the executive committee for the coming year are introduced.

NCSL Summit 2011

New Additions to the NLPES Training Products Matrix “Narrated PowerPoints” Are you looking to produce short, narrated PowerPoint presentations to quickly summarize or peak interest in your reports? If so, this presentation provides tips on how to make them.

 

Newsletter's Editors:

Bob Boerner
NCSL Legislative Information Services Program | 303-856-1353

Scott Sager, Wisconsin
Dale Carlson, California
Angus Maciver, Montana