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State Auditor Josh Gallion during a meeting with members of the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee in 2018 at the state Capitol in Bismarck. 

North Dakota State Auditor Josh Gallion is seeking an attorney general opinion on language in his budget requiring legislative approval for certain types of audits. 

Gallion has consulted state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem over provisions that require legislative approval for performance audits and to outsource work required by the federal government. 

"Both of those add some complications," Gallion told the Tribune on Monday. 

He said it's unclear for what audits he will have to seek approval from the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee. The auditor's office performs two-year "operational audits" of state agencies, which Gallion said are conducted under performance auditing standards. 

"Technically, most of our audits are performance audits," he said. 

Gallion said his office undertakes two or three performance audits a year, which are separate from the required two-year audits. He'll do one this year, on state-assessed fees.

Another example is his 2018 review of the governor's office use of state aircraft, which raised concerns over transparency and "inappropriate" flights.

The first-term Republican auditor points to the provisions as being added last-minute, late at night in the final conference committee meeting of lawmakers reviewing his new two-year budget. 

"We didn't even have a chance to fully digest what all of these mean, let alone have that discussion with the Legislature," Gallion said.

He also said the approval for outsourcing of federally required work presents questions as agencies, such as the state-owned Bank of North Dakota and Job Service North Dakota, have components he can't cover.

Seeking lawmakers' approval could delay the auditing process, Gallion added. Lawmakers' audit committee usually meets quarterly, last in October 2018.

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, carried the auditor's office budget in the House, where it met with extensive debate in the Legislature's final days. Some House members questioned whether Gallion's authority would be nipped by needing legislative approval for performance audits. 

Mock said the condition came about due to structural changes in Gallion's office and a desire for more communication on the scope and costs of performance audits, which can take months.

"In no way was that maneuver ever intended to be limiting of the auditor's ability," Mock said. "It was exclusively about improving communication." 

Gov. Doug Burgum defended his signing of the auditor's office budget in a meeting Thursday with The Bismarck Tribune editorial board when pressed about the provision, which he could have vetoed. 

"I completely reject the thesis that somehow we are against transparency because the Legislature wants to manage an authority that they granted the way they want to manage it," Burgum said. 

He pointed to Gallion's office receiving an additional $1.3 million and two more full-time local government auditors, bringing his staff to 58 full-timers, the most ever. 

But Gallion said those two new full-time positions are for auditing cities, counties and other local public entities. 

"Anybody who's saying, 'Oh, we gave them two extra positions,' yeah, but those are for a specific purpose," Gallion said. "They do not support the agency audits or performance audits." 

Gallion said he doesn't know lawmakers' intent in the provisions for their approval. 

"I believe I'm doing the work the taxpayers expect," he said. 

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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