Palm Tran employee theft not in internal audit ‘scope’

The chambers were nearly empty on Tuesday as the Palm County Commission held a workshop on the role and activities of the internal auditor and the Audit Committee. Commissioners seemed more concerned about duplication of duties than evidence of fraud that resulted in a recent arrest – evidence that was uncovered by the inspector general but missed by the internal auditor.

Internal Auditor Joe Bergeron lamented his staff’s reduction, from 12 positions to eight, excusing the oversight by saying the department “lost one-third [of our] ability to conduct audits.”

While audits investigate such cost-control items as “inventory and cash management systems,” a recent audit of Palm Tran Connection did not include in its scope the inventory control aspect uncovered by the inspector general. As a result of the inspector general’s inquiry, a Palm Tran employee was arrested two weeks ago for theft of over $11,000 in inventory, including office supplies, over three years.

Bergeron explained that an “annual audit plan” is formulated each year. It determines which department will be audited, details are gathered as to how the department operates, and then the focus or objective is defined. If the scope and detail are broadened, fewer audits will be completed.

Commissioner Burt Aaronson questioned whether duplication of investigations existed between the inspector general and the internal auditor. Bergeron responded that by county policy, areas of higher risk or indications of fraud were immediately referred to the inspector general.

Commissioner Karen Marcus voiced concern that departments were ignoring the internal auditor’s recommendations, which appeared to contribute to Palm Tran’s fiscal control weaknesses.

Responding to a question from Commissioner Shelley Vana, Bergeron said it County management’s responsibility to follow through on those recommendations and the internal auditor’s duty to see that the recommendations were adopted.

“I was removed from the Audit Committee,” County Administrator Bob Weisman pointed out in further explaining an erosion in communication may be exacerbating the audits’ effectiveness. Weisman added that he does review audit reports to determine if departments are moving forward with recommendations.

To avoid any further cracks in the system, Marcus suggested that the commission may not want to eliminate two audit positions, as planned in the 2012 budget, if the commission’s desire is to widen the scope of county audits and be more aggressive in rooting out fraud and abuse.

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