Legislators turn to Auditor General CPAs to understand how the numbers add up

Dennis Hoyle, CPA, auditor general for Rhode Island, has spent more than three four decades in state government. At the Office of Auditor General, he oversees a staff of 45, including 12 CPAs and five Certified Information Systems Auditors. The office is tasked with

providing “fact-based information, primarily to General Assembly members but to the public as well, on the state’s financial position and the operation of state programs and activities.”

It is, suffice to say, a busy office.

“In many ways we operate similarly to any entity’s external auditor,” said Hoyle.

Hoyle, who succeeded Ernest Almonte as Auditor General, explains that the bulk of the audit work performed at the OAG emanates from statutory provisions that require the office to conduct annual audits. Such audits include the audit of the state’s financial statements including single audit provisions related to the expenditure of federal funds.  The single audit focuses on whether the State complied with federal requirements for more 30 of the larger federally funded programs.  The OAG also audits the Rhode Island Lottery and the defined benefit and defined contribution plans within the Employees' Retirement System.  The audit of the retirement system also results in reports used by more than 100 participating employers to prepare their financial statements and report their net pension liabilities.

“Each of these audits is complex and demands a significant amount of our available resources,” said Hoyle.         

Other audits, according to Hoyle, result from requests by the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, a bipartisan legislative committee comprised of leaders within the House and Senate, to which the OAG reports. The office also has certain oversight responsibilities with respect to municipalities, fire districts and charter schools.

The mission of the OAG, in part describes the office as having a responsibility “to help improve the performance and accountability of state government.” It’s a weighty task, but one that Hoyle and his staff embrace. 

“I feel we are able to provide beneficial and practical recommendations to improve controls and promote efficiencies throughout state government,” he said. “There is always more that could be done but over the office’s more than 40-year history, I think we have had a positive impact on the reliability of the state’s financial reporting and enhanced the state’s control environment. Additionally, we have a good record of sharing practical guidance and recommendations for improving state operations. The overriding goal is to ensure funds, whether state or federal, are used for their intended purpose in the most efficient and effective way.”  

Hoyle said that a significant amount of the OAG’s time is now focused on information systems and IT security related issues.

“These are important areas that we have and will continue to assess and make appropriate recommendations to address those risks,” he said.

With his lengthy tenure in state government, Hoyle understands that for a department tasked with helping the General Assembly spend its money, public scrutiny hovers over the job. Scrutiny is justified, and expected. But at times, Hoyle believes the public at large may not see the effort lawmakers apply to understanding the economics of running state programs.

“I think many citizens/taxpayers would be surprised at the wide scope and complexity of state operations and the time and effort required of General Assembly members in vetting the annual budget and other proposed legislation,” said Hoyle. “The issues grow increasing complex each year and I’m impressed with the questions, deep understanding, and willingness to ‘get into the weeds’ on many of the issues.” 

Of late, the OAG has found itself in the public eye as lawmakers worked to revise the controversial legislative grant process. Hoyle and his staff do not shy from such attention. 

“The media coverage, while not sought, does raise the visibility of what we do,” said Hoyle. “That’s positive. It’s a welcome focus.” 

Indeed, Hoyle finds great satisfaction in his job and the challenges of the OAG. 

“The reward comes from feeling the office has done its job by prompting a beneficial change in state operations, mitigating a known risk, or enhancing the effectiveness of a program,” he said “There often can be a lag between recommendation and implementation but that might add to the reward just a bit. For me, the part of the job that is the most enjoyable, yet arguably the most challenging, is the variety of issues encountered in a day -- it can range from the implementation of poker games at Twin River, to charter schools, to Medicaid.”