Saturday, June 16, 2007

Phil Bryant--An Incompetent Agency Head and Bully

www.cottonmouthblog.blogspot.com did an excellent job in summarizing the PEER report on the handling of the State Auditor's office, which Phil Bryant has headed since November 1996 (see www.peer.state.ms.us/495.html if you want more details. The report is over one hundred pages, but makes for good reading.)

cottonmouthblog commented on the high turnover in the office (writer's note: cottonmouthblog is liberal but an excellent source for state politics. It is unabashedly Democratic, but I recommend it just for its excellent research and reporting. Plus, the writers are witty.), but did not go into detail about the very high turnover in the State Auditor's office.

An 82% turnover in a state agency in four years shows gross mismanagement on the head of the agency. And for CPAs to leave the premier agency for accounting is shocking in itself. One reason is the low salaries the OSA (Office of State Auditor) offers. A starting salary of $30661 for a college accounting graduate is much lower than the starting salary for the same graduate in a small CPA firm. Three years ago, I had a friend who has a sole proprietorship that hired an accounting graduate at a starting salary of $38000. A good-sized regional firm hired accounting graduates at a starting salary of $45000. And those graduates can move up the accounting ladder, especially if they pass the CPA exam. Also, these graduates are not subjected to salary increases based on the whims of the State Legislature. Every year at these CPA firms they get a COLA (even if they don't get promoted).

Usually, even in a state agency, the CPAs stay. It is rare when they look for other jobs. We CPAs hate change. We like to work for the same people, the same agency or CPA firm and essentially do the same work (although we do like challenging work, even if it means change). High staff turnover is not the nature of the profession. We are a wildly loyal lot. So long as we are treated right, get raises and get some juicy work to do, we are very easy to please. In the little firm I'm at, we have had no turnover in six years. CPAs in state agencies know they will not make the real big bucks, but they have excellent fringe benefits, good retirement and no bone-crushing hours that CPAs in CPA firms have (I work 80-90 hours a week during tax season. One year I put in 110 hours a week for three weeks.).

Before Bryant was appointed to his job (I think there should be a constitution amendment that states only a CPA with at least five years of public accounting experience should head the OSA.), there was not much of a turnover. The reason is the other State Auditors let the staff do the job and they stayed out of it. As I wrote before, after Hamp King left in 1984 the agency became more political. But until Bryant, the State Auditors let the top CPAs do the job while they went politicking. Not so with Bryant.

I have talked to individuals who worked in the OSA under Phil Bryant. It was like being locked in a closet with a two-hundred pound water rat. Stuff they told me curled my hair. Indeed, such behavior would not be tolerated in a CPA firm. Bryant has systematically reduced auditor positions over his career and moved slots to non-audit positions such as investigations or leadership positions within Jackson. Some have gone to the performance audit division, which has in past years been used merely as a political hammer. There are no real standards for a performance audit and no real peer review of the results.

Audit positions are billable audit hours. You reduce the number of auditors you have and you reduce the dollars coming in to the agency. Salaries of people that leave are used to pay those that stay. Therefore, you get into a cannibal situation in that positions that are not filled in order to keep one good auditor or that one more key management person in Jackson (How would you like to be in that situation? Wouldn't you be sending out your resume'?).

Audits are at an all time low in numbers. Only one in four of the county audits are done by the OSA. From what I am told, the OSA will do no University or Junior College audits next year and just a fraction of the County School audits. The state billing rate for audits to other agencies is just one-quarter of the Federal billing rate. The golden goose is in the audit billing rate but there are several cutbacks in agency audits at the present time.

Another person told me there is no way to turn back the hands of time and do all audits in house in the near future. It works fine for counties, schools and some other agencies to hire outside firms and have the OSA review the financial audits. It's okay to a point but a bad example is the audit on the Jefferson Davis Schools. From what has been mentioned, $1.5 million was not caught by the firm doing the audit but was for the first year the OSA picked the audit back up.

Phil Bryant cares for his own ego and not the welfare of the employees in his agency. In December, the OSA has a yearly staff meeting and training classes. The staff meeting with Bryant is scheduled five to six months in advance so he knows its on his calendar. In December 2006, a week before the meeting Bryant reschedules the meeting. The training could not be rescheduled due to outside people coming in to train and places scheduled to hold the training. So, Bryant made everyone come back to Jackson the following week for the staff meeting. All out of town staff had to travel back to Jackson causing the state to pay for double travel. The cost was estimated to be $6500. Then you have to add hotels for some and the loss of income from everyone having to come back (e.g., no billing for audit hours), which cost about $17000. That's a total of $23500. Why did this paragon of a watchdog of the taxpayer's money cancel the staff meeting? Bryant had to hold a press conference about opening offices in Hattiesburg for Katrina investigations. Couldn't this "fiscal conservative" announce that before or after the staff meeting? Or during the meeting? Or was Bryant more interested in a photo-op?

The NSAA audit of the Mississippi State Auditor's office (a peer audit of the audits completed) shows that the quality of audits are terrible. Previously, the OSA has always had good audit reports. But a high turnover rate of auditors takes its toll in any state agency. This is the first time for a bad audit report issued by the NSAA.

Even after an article in the CLARION-LEDGER showing a high turnover in the OSA and poor salaries, Bryant wouldn't push for pay raises until the PEER review came out. Voila', it's election year! Finally, they are getting decent raises. But if this had not been an election year and the sharp criticism of the PEER review, the workers in his agency wouldn't get any raises.

Bryant's red-hot temper and bullying are legendary in that agency. The OSA has a little room where you can put your coffee mug there. One morning, he went into that little coffee room and there were a couple of mugs in the sink soaking. Those mugs had been sitting there for a few minutes, not a few days. He took the mugs and threw them in a trash. Some of those mugs had sentimental value to the employees. They were the personal property of the employees. Then he sent out a memo on the matter. Other times he has screamed at audit processors about getting an audit out. At times, he has made the women working in those hapless positions cry. He didn't care about their feelings. You just can't send out an audit based on a political whim. You have to make sure all the "i"s are dotted and all the "t"s are crossed. Otherwise, the audit could blow up in your face. If Bryant had been a CPA, he would have understood that. Instead, he goes into wild tirades and screams at those employees, reducing them to tears. I have been told this happens a lot. He is very, very hot-tempered, screaming and yelling at employees before asking questions to clear up an inquiry. And you wonder why they leave? Would YOU work for him? Gee, are you surprised there's an 82% turnover in his office?

Remember, this is the jerk who wants to be YOUR Lt. Governor. How do you think he'll get along with the State Senate? Will the state have to hire a new Legislative Director every month?

Yeah, he'd make a great Lt. Governor. Just look at the wonderful job he's done as State Auditor.

2 comments:

B Squared said...

don't forget that Bryant's Auditors Office ok'd the Beef Plant spending early in the process. If he would have done his job he might've kept the Legislature from screwing the tax payers on that hopeless project.

Jonathan said...

I am trying to get a conservative digg alternative going called GOP Hub (GOPHub.com). Anything you can do to help with this effort would be awesome. Plus feel free to submit any articles you write here on your blog :). Take care and have a great weekend!