Growing up the oldest of eleven, it’s no surprise that John Dougall (campaign site here) has a frugal streak to him. In fact, it’s more than a campaign slogan, says his sister Julie.
In fact, family legend has it that John has worn the same shoes since his mission, she says. “they are so old, they’ve come back in style… Since they are quite beat up, he just wears them like house slippers, but he still wears them, all the time.”
For a guy who has made the auditor’s race interesting for the first time in decades–if it ever was before–it’s believable. With the help of his wife, Sandy, whose creativity Dougall says responsible for the funny and creative campaign material his campaign has produced, John has put together what is arguably both the most interesting and the most policy heavy campaign this year. If you haven’t noticed, then you’ve been living under a rock somewhere.
Whether it’s his radio ads that riff off the Dos Equis meme (“John Dougall is the most frugal man in the world…his car not only stops on a dime, it picks it up, too”) or creative posters and pictures featuring tough looking dogs hunting for waste (because Dougall will be a “watch dog” with the tax payers dollars…) or the Geico gecko telling how Dougall will save money.
Speaking of the gecko, if John Dougall has his way then your fifteen minutes voting for him at the ballot box will save our state money, too.
All slogans and advertising aside, John has a solid campaign, strong support from legislative leaders like Speaker Becky Lockhart and Senate President Michael Waddoups (and every CPA in the legislature), and a plan that really could transform how the auditors office does business.
Recently, I asked John why he was running for state auditor. First, he said, he wants people to know that we have a state auditor.
Under the state constitution, the Utah state Auditor is supposed perform financial post audits and any other duties ascribed under statute.
Over the years, those duties have changed (in 1996 and 2003, for example) and have largely expanded over the years. John believes that the auditor’s office should “step-up” compliance and performance audits to assure government is working the way it’s supposed to. “The state auditor is supposed to be [an] independent, early warning system,” says Dougall. The expansion from performing merely financial post audits to a compliance and performance is because “more and more elected officials have wanted it to be that officer” who keeps an eye on government.
While John Dougall is not a CPA, he is quick to point out that he is an MBA, and that not only are most state auditors MBAs, but there’s a good reason to have an MBA running the office over a CPA. The Auditor’s position is one of management, in addition to audit, and Dougall’s degree covers both.
While he acknowledges that government is not business, Dougall argues that auditing principles are the same. In business, “managerial accounting” is a very important function of auditors. It’s a highly competitive market, and it should be same with government. “When there is concern about fiscal matters, we gotta figure out how to save money,” says Dougall.
“To be blunt,” he says, “the running joke is that he has been retired in office for ten years. Austin Johnson put it this way recently in Tooele: ‘the heavily lifting is done; we’re in maintenance mode.’ His philosophy is now to just ‘mow the lawn and trim the bushes.’ On the contrary, the heavy lifting in defense of the taxpayer is never done.”
If the heavy lifting for the taxpayer is never done, then, what will John do to keep the load lifted? Dougall says he has both short-term and longer term objectives.
- Rebuild a relationship with elected officials. The auditors’ office has been damaged over recent years due to failures the legislature sees stemming largely from lax oversight during Austin Johnson’s terms in office. For example, the scandal that recently rocked the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control could have been avoided. The auditor’s office wrote a memo on the problems–15 years ago– but nothing else. 1995. John says he would have come back after 90 days to re-audit. to see if the problem had been solved.
- Institute an office policy of re-auditing when a report shows a problem. After ninety days, come back and check again. “Nip a problem in the bud instead of allowing it to fest and become a serious issue,” says Dougall.
- Training for local officials and government employees. In the past, training is offered at conferences, but it’s not always timely. Dougall would put training online, test trainees, and raise competancy before habits are formed.
- Do a better job assessing risk to taxpayers. Dougall says that the auditor’s office needs to perform more compliance audits to determine whether there is serious risk and then prioritize resources accordingly.
- Institute performance (aka “efficiency”) audits. The legislature is “begging for more data upon which to make decisions,” says Dougall. “It’s also the reason so many legislators, and every CPA in the legislature, supports.” He chuckles. “They call me a budget proctologist over there.”
- Leverage technology to help improve audit oversight and performance. For example, Dougall says, take purchase cards. Right now the state looks at usage six to nine months ago to determine performance. We should institute a real-time, algorithm to watch how things are being used and allow for continuous, automated audit.
- Map data for the public to follow and watch. Make it more transparent.
- Share accounting systems with interested cities. Identify whether there opportunities for cities to share accounting systems. Voluntary, it would make better accounting software available through the pooling of resources.
For a race that is usually quiet and uncompetitive, John Dougall has proven to be a disruptive element that may lead to positive change. Elections are voters only opportunity to weigh-in directly on elected officials’ performance, and the auditor’s office has managed to dodge that bullet for too long. Austin Johnson has never really had another perspective than his office. Before he was appointed and then reelected successively to his position for 17 years, he was an employee of the state auditor’s office. All told, he’s worked in the Auditor’s office his entire career. It’s hard to expect anything new from a career bureaucrat with no incentive to innovate or improve his performance.
What galls me most is his attitude that “the heavy lifting is done.” When more than ever citizens are examining the role and cost of big government, our elected officials should be actively doing the same. Now is not the time to set Utah on cruise control.
It’s time for a new look at how business is done. It’s time for John Dougall for Utah State Auditor.