Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear readers,

A Grand Forks reader wrote me the following:

“Several weeks ago, you wrote a column about how people can report possible inappropriate action by state employees. You should revisit this.

“I informed Eide (Bailly) about an issue, and they did not even acknowledge receipt. They do not do the investigation, monitor it or report progress to the person who turned it in. What they do is inform the agency, who conducts the investigation. I’m not making this up.

“So, if somebody thinks UND/NDSU/(other) is covering up, the university is informed. What a system. It is a farce that gives the false appearance of transparency and accountability.

“This is like a judge hearing an appeal on their original decision. The chances of a reversal are the same as a real, unbiased investigation of a complaint.”

Thanks for writing! I started with Eide Bailly to get its comments. Here is what Jeremy Bendewald, director of forensic accounting and investigative services, said:

“Eide Bailly provides a hot line service to companies across the country, giving employees an anonymous way to report issues. Submissions are returned to the organization. Eide Bailly makes no assumption or conclusion as to the truthfulness of the information received.”

I then went back to the North Dakota University System with this reader concern and asked them to respond. Here’s what Laura Glatt said:

“All 11 NDUS colleges and universities are required to contract with a third-party provider for the provision of an anonymous fraud hot line service. Reports that are filed with the third-party provider are simultaneously turned over to the appropriate campus officials and also a designated employee at the University System office.

“Each report is investigated at the campus level and appropriate actions are taken. Campuses file a report with the University System office. After reviewing the campus report, the University System office follows up with the appropriate campus, if, in their opinion, additional action is needed. In addition, all fraud reports are turned over to the North Dakota Office of the State Auditor as part of the NDUS audit.

“Newly-adopted State Board of Higher Education policy 802.8 also requires: 1. Reporting. Internal audit functions and staff for the NDUS and the institutions with internal audit functions (NDSU and UND) report directly and solely to their recognized agency heads (chancellor and institution presidents, respectively).

“Those agency heads have a corresponding responsibility to assure timely conveyance of substantial findings, including suspected fraud and other illegal activities, through established administrative chain of command and ultimately to the BAFC (Budget, Audit and Finance Committee).

“On an annual basis, an overview of anticipated future internal audit activities will be presented directly to the BAFC by involved agency heads or their representatives.”

I also asked Senate Assistant Majority Leader Randy Christmann of Hazen to respond. Here’s what he said:

“I had hoped to get some advice on the legalities of the reporting process to see if anything was being missed, but was unable. Generally, though, the process is there to either report to one’s supervisors or to the auditing firm. This person chose to report to Eide, which tells me that he/she was either afraid to go to their supervisor or thought it would do no good.

“Certainly nobody should be punished for reporting inappropriate actions. However, people need to also understand that making such reports does not necessarily mean the investigation will find the result they expect or that they are entitled to a report on the results.

“In this case, if the auditors followed procedures and appropriate changes were made, there may not be any reason for the “whistleblower” to be aware of the action. It could also be that notice was given to the right people, and the auditors will be watching for this particular problem to be corrected when doing future audits.

“Finally, if people think the process is just not yielding results, there is always the option that non-government citizens have, and that is talking to their legislators. We are a citizen legislature where the members from both parties are well-grounded and concerned about helping people.”

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.