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Friday, February 12, 2021
Auditor Exposes Speaker's Office--Manipulating 'Working Group' to Save OHA's Dirty Secrets
By News Release @ 1:52 PM :: 2175 Views :: Ethics, OHA

From: Les Kondo, Hawaii State Auditor 

To: Mr. Edwin Young Chairperson, State Auditor Working Group

Re: State Auditor Working Group

PDF: Original Letter

Dear Mr. Young:   February 10, 2021

I am in receipt of your email dated February 8, 2021, requesting that I answer questions regarding the lawsuit filed by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) against me, in my official capacity, and the Office of the Auditor as well as questions about, among other things, procurement of and the source of funds to pay for our legal counsel. Like your earlier questions and request for documents, these questions seem to be well-outside the purpose of the Working Group, which Speaker Saiki stated was “to determine whether the Office of the State Auditor is in compliance with Art. VII, section 10 of the Hawaii Constitution.”1

By letter to you dated February 3, 2021, I asked you to clarify the authority by which the Working Group was created and how the scope of the work that you described is consistent with the purpose for which the Speaker formed the Working Group. To date, I have not received any response to my request. Instead, your February 8 email seems to reflect that the Working Group is determined to press forward without clarifying how House Rule 2 authorized the Speaker to unilaterally establish the Working Group or how the scope of the Working Group’s inquiries align with the purpose for which the Working Group was created. I again request clarification and, because of the importance of protecting the office’s independence and credibility, ask that the Working Group suspend its work until the questions are resolved.

I understand that the Working Group started interviewing people outside of the Office of the Auditor, even before you first contacted me, and continues to meet with others, including the Acting City Auditor and the Audit Manager for the Office of the City Auditor of the City and County of Honolulu, both of whom previously worked for you. I am unclear how those individuals can offer any information about “whether the Office of the State Auditor is in compliance with Art. VII, section 10 of the Hawaii Constitution.” Rather, from your questions to me and based on the people whom you are interviewing, it seems that the Working Group’s purpose is to find some “cause” to support the Speaker’s apparent objective to remove me.

Also concerning is an email that you sent to us last week, likely by mistake. That email includes a string of emails between members of the Working Group, Rona M. Suzuki, who is the Speaker’s senior advisor, and a current Executive Branch employee. The email string shows that Ms. Suzuki is working with and directing the Working Group in its efforts to find reports that were submitted less than 20 days before the convening of a legislative session. That email string seems to again reflect that the Working Group is looking for support for the Speaker’s narrative that some of our reports have been “late.” More concerning is Ms. Suzuki’s involvement in the Working Group’s efforts to dig up that support. It was my understanding – perhaps misunderstanding – that the Working Group was supposed to be working independently and objectively. However, it appears that the Speaker and his office are actively assisting the Working Group in its efforts to find issues with our work.

As you surely know, the timing of reports is often outside of the Auditor’s control. If an agency is unable to provide us with timely access to information – or, in the case of OHA, refuses to give us documents – it could delay the issuance of a report, even indefinitely in the case of OHA. The Government Auditing Standards promulgated by the Comptroller General of the United States require that we have sufficient and appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for supporting our audit findings and conclusions. We simply cannot ignore those professional standards which provide a framework for performing high-quality audit work with competence, integrity, objectivity, and independence. We are very mindful of our responsibility to provide accountability and to help improve government operations and services through thorough, unbiased, and objective assessments of agency performance. Anything less would be unfair to the audited agency and would be of much less value to the Legislature. I trust that the Working Group and Ms. Suzuki will not simply be reporting the number of times reports were issued less than 20 days before a legislative session, but are considering these and other reasons that may have affected the timing of issuance of those reports.

The Working Group’s questions about the lawsuit filed by OHA against me and the office – a lawsuit that is ongoing – are also wholly inappropriate and can only help OHA in the litigation. There is absolutely no purpose in requesting confidential information that can harm our defense, except to hunt for something – anything – to “support” the Speaker’s narrative that the Office of the Auditor has gotten into what he has reportedly called “unnecessary litigation.”

We suspended our audit of the OHA Board of Trustees’ use and oversight of OHA’s limited liability companies (LLCs) in accordance with Government Auditing Standards after OHA refused to provide us with the complete minutes from executive sessions in which the Trustees considered matters relating to the LLCs, which we had repeatedly told OHA that we would be compelled to do. We did not initiate any legal action; rather, OHA sued us. In fact, according to OHA’s complaint, litigation was “imminent and inevitable.”

I reiterate that our work is consistent with Art. VII, section 10 of the State Constitution. Specifically, we conduct audits of state program performance as well as other work as directed by the Legislature; we report our findings and recommendations to the governor and the Legislature as well as to the audited agency. Multiple external and independent reviews conducted by competent audit professionals from other state audit offices have confirmed that our performance as an audit office meets or exceeds professional standards for quality and professionalism in government auditing and accountability.

Lastly, I must emphasize the importance of maintaining our objectivity and independence – both of mind and appearance. As you should know, independence from undue political or other external influences or pressures that may affect an auditor’s ability to make objective judgments is the foundation of the government audit work we are tasked to perform. I am deeply concerned that the Working Group is failing to consider the potential harm that it is causing to the Office of the Auditor by posing undue influence threats to our independence. The position of the Auditor is established by the State Constitution, and the office is intended to be nonpartisan, unbiased, objective, and free of political interference.

In a continuing effort to protect the Office of the Auditor’s credibility and independence, I maintain my request for the Working Group to clarify the legal basis of its authority as well as the scope of its work.

Very truly yours,

Leslie H. Kondo State Auditor

c: Senators, Representatives

Footnote:

1   Art. VII, section 10 of the State Constitution states, in relevant part: It shall be the duty of the auditor to conduct post-audits of the transactions, accounts, programs and performance of all departments, offices and agencies of the State and its political subdivisions, to certify to the accuracy of all financial statements issued by the respective accounting officers and to report the auditor’s findings and recommendations to the governor and to the legislature at such times as shall be provided by law. The auditor shall also make such additional reports and conduct such other investigations as may be directed by the legislature.

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