BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A 60 day assessment of the operation of the Department of Marine Resources is now complete. The assessment, conducted by an independent CPA firm, will be unveiled publicly Tuesday for the first time.
The agency is under investigation by federal and state officials for alleged mishandling of money, among other things. New DMR Director Jamie Miller is on a mission: Take the thick report and then take action to correct problems plaguing the DMR.
"What we see and what our CPA firm and the auditor's office have confirmed with us is there's an environment here that, given bad actors, certainly this system is susceptible to waste and abuse," Miller said.
The report shows the agency at high risk for that abuse in several departments at the agency. That past abuse led to the investigation, according to Miller.
"Whatever comes from that investigation, we will now be able to look back at this document and our evaluation and say that doesn't surprise us. Because what we discovered when we looked at ourselves internally, we were susceptible to all those things," Miller explained.
Changes have already been made, which have nothing to do with the investigation. Sixteen of 32 contractors are gone now. Other full time employees have resigned or retired. Miller told us why.
"People were put in spots when they were hired into the agency, given duties to perform, but ended up in a spot where they were overseeing a program or finances in a way that really is not suitable. And so we're making all those corrective actions."
While the report that's going to be released to the Commission on Marine Resources on Tuesday highlights many problems at the DMR and possible solutions, the main one is money, according to Miller. How it's spent, where it goes and how it's accounted for.
"How money was spent is a symptom we're getting to at the heart of. Are the right controls in place, is the right oversight in place where you don't get money that is unaccounted for or spent in ways that is not publicly known?
"So the symptoms kind of bubble up from a deeper system and a culture that kind of exists here."
Another culture change on the way is an annual audit.
"It's certainly my goal and we plan to budget each year to have an audit of the agency."
For a skeptical public, those changes can't come soon enough.
The Commission on Marine Resources meets Tuesday morning at 9am. WLOX News will be there and follow-up this story with reaction from commission members about the report.