State auditor's review shows DPS following rules, just not efficiently

Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz (l) and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves (r).
Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz (l) and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves (r).

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - A state auditor's report on the Department of Public Safety's financial management shows the DPS "has been in compliance with State laws and regulations, including its appropriation bill." But the auditor also found a lack of documentation that made reviewing the agency difficult, and did recommend organizational and staffing changes.

Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz requested the performance audit several months ago after receiving complaints about the agency from legislative leaders, including Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.

"There have been questions about an appropriation of $1.9 million DPS received for equipment. The auditors could find nothing that specifically mandated the entirety of this appropriation be used to purchase vehicles," Santa Cruz said.

He said while there is a need for updated enforcement vehicles, a choice had to be made between vehicles and covering salary shortfalls.

"We had to make a choice, either to purchase vehicles and furlough employees or to use that funding for salaries. We chose to purchase fewer vehicles instead of laying-off employees," Santa Cruz said, defending the spending choices.

But Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves had a much different read on the report, issuing a statement Wednesday saying, "DPS lacks the management and fiscal expertise to run a $100 million agency."

"The biggest problem I have with the management of DPS is their unwillingness to make decisions based on what's in the best interest of the men and women wearing the uniform and protecting our citizens on the road," Reeves stated. "We have increased the Highway Patrol general fund budget by $5 million in the last two years, yet that money isn't making it down to the Troopers. That isn't a financial management issue; that is a leadership issue."

The report also pointed out accounting problems within the department, and noted that DPS relies on a non-State supported software system for some of its financial reports. He noted that "without the Department of Finance and Administration's assistance in re-creating certain financial and budget reports, it would have been impossible to complete this audit as specific documents were not available from DPS."

"Throughout this project, my staff noted a lack of budget request supporting documentation, and difficulty in providing certain other budget and financial reports," Pickering wrote in a letter to Santa Cruz.

A recommendation was made that in the future, budget request supporting documentation be maintained with the budget requests, and certain other documents be created and used for analysis and planning throughout the year.

The auditors also recommended DPS increase the staff of its Accounting Department, and provide additional training opportunities for the current comptroller.

"There is always room for improvement and we have already started making changes to better our accounting procedures and policies," Santa Cruz said. "The purpose of an audit is to identify efficiencies and we will do everything possible toward the betterment of this agency and to improve public safety."

Reeves said he wasn't surprised the information requested by the Audit Department could not be produced by DPS.

"Unfortunately, the Auditor and his staff have experienced first-hand the frustrations we have in the Legislature," Reeves stated Wednesday. "The mere fact the Auditor – the individual elected to fully investigate state agencies – had to spend his own valuable resources recreating financial reports and documents speak to the severity of the problem at DPS."

Santa Cruz also asked for a review of the efficiency and effectiveness of the Drivers' License Kiosks across the state. That part of the audit remains to be finished. Pickering noted that his staff would begin working on that request within the next two months.

Review the full audit at the State Auditor's website:

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