On the first of June this year, Gary Blackmer became director of the Secretary of State’s Audits Division. He came to the state after a decade as Portland’s elected city auditor and before that was elected to two terms as the Multnomah County auditor. Blackmer is recognized nationally for his expertise in government auditing and has developed particular proficiency in performance audits, which thoroughly analyze the efficiency and effectiveness of governmental policies, management and fiscal dealings. He answered a few questions for us about his first few months on the job.
Q. What changes do you see for the Audits Division?
A. I’m asking the auditors to dig deeper into the problems they encounter when they audit so we can identify the root causes of problems and make recommendations that help managers pinpoint solutions. I’m finding that auditors are very enthused about this new scope of their responsibilities. They’re leaping into the issues and producing better audits already.
Q. What’s a performance audit?
A. A performance audit looks at how an organization delivers services and figures out where the bottlenecks and obstacles are. So when we point problems out to management, they can improve their service, whether it involves cost or quality or timeliness. A financial audit looks at the money transactions in an organization. Our biggest responsibility in a statewide financial audit is determining whether agency reporting of financial transactions is accurate and reliable. Our other large responsibility is determining whether federal funds were handled in compliance with federal rules.
Q. Will the Audits Division be doing more performance audits than it did in the past?
A. Yes, we will be stretching some of our audits that only looked at rule compliance to look at the larger picture of performance. We’re also looking at ways to apply our financial audit staff to equally important questions about public finance issues.
Q. How can audits help save taxpayer money?
A. In many ways, government gets in its own way in delivering services. As outsiders, we can see things that people in an organization have become accustomed to, things that are unnecessary or duplicative. Finding them are ways we can save money. We can also look at the state’s revenue sources to see if we can bring in additional dollars. We can examine programs to see if they’re accomplishing the objectives set forward by the Legislature. If they’re not, leadership can decide how to better allocate those resources to be more effective.
Q. What surprised you most when took the job?
A. Auditors are never surprised. We show no emotion. Seriously, I was surprised at how quickly I felt at home here. The topics we’re auditing here are areas I’ve audited in the past. The staff and management team in the Secretary of State’s office have all been very helpful. I’m really feeling at home. That was a nice surprise.
Q. What are you doing to get to know the division?
A. I’ve been getting around and trying to meet with everybody. It’s a very vibrant group of professionals with strong connections through things like a baseball team, birthday events, and a mentoring program. I think that’s so important in an organization and I feel lucky to be a part of it all, though I’d probably break something if I got on a ball field again.
Q. What long-range goals do you have for the division?
A. I’d like to see the public have greater trust that their tax dollars are achieving maximum results for them and their fellow taxpayers.
I’d also like to see the Secretary of State’s Audits Division become the leader in the quality and value of our audits, not only in Oregon, but among the other audit organizations. Finally, I’d like to see Audits Division be seen as come a valuable source of knowledge about the programs in Oregon. I’m not talking just about clarifying the State’s financial picture but as a way of educating people about the accomplishments of state government.
Q. How is being state auditor different than being Portland auditor?
A. Well, I think the biggest change is that I don’t have to manage elections or take complaints against the police, so I have fewer headaches. Also, with the State I get to focus on being the manager of audits, which is what I really love. In Portland, I had an audits director who answered to me and had all that kind of fun. Now I’m taking charge and am able to dig in and ask all the extra little questions that really make a huge difference in the success of our audits; I really enjoy that.
For another Q&A with Gary Blackmer, head on over to the Statesman Journal for their in depth interview with our new Audits Director.