A Hummel Report Investigation
Could Rhode Island streamline its government and save taxpayers from waste, fraud and abuse? A retired Army officer from Portsmouth is pushing state officials to follow the lead of a dozen other states and appoint an inspector general. This week he tells Jim Hummel what an IG would - and wouldn’t do - in a state where the budget has increased more than 30 percent over the past decade and 70 percent in the last 15 years.
It has become a familiar challenge at the Rhode Island State House over the past decade: figuring out a way to close the annual budget deficit.
This year’s $9.2 billion budget relies on the governor coming up with $25 million of yet-to-be specified cuts, and the legislature scooping millions of dollars in reserves from agencies like The Narragansett Bay Commission.
But what if there was more money available - without having to raise taxes, fees or use other financial gimmicks? Ray Berberick of Portsmouth has a suggestion:
Berberick: ``Create an office of the inspector general’
It’s a pitch that he gave to Governor Lincoln Chafee five years a ago when Berberick and others were fighting a proposal to toll vehicles on the Sakonnet River Bridge. Politicians, trying to close yet another budget gap, had asked the opponents: in lieu of tolls, where would you find the money?
Berberick’s answer was simple and direct:
Berberick: ``Create an office of the inspector general. Let them do their work and they will find scores of millions of dollars in funds that are spent incorrectly.’’
Berberick served for two years as an inspector general when he was stationed with the U.S. Army at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma in the mid-1990s. He had be trained before taking over the position.
Berberick: ``During the training I said `My God’ if only half the people in the world knew the concepts of what the inspector general can bring to the table to make things more efficient and effective - then there would be a lot less, not fraud waste and abuse from criminal intent, but just streamlined procedures and save everybody time.’’
Berberick and other proponents envision an inspector general, whose duties lie somewhere between the state’s auditor general, and the Rhode Island Attorney General - with a focused mission of looking for waste, fraud and abuse.
And if the IG comes across potential criminal activity, he or she would immediately stop and refer it to the attorney general.
Berberick: ``The inspector general does not investigate or inspect people. If you go and look at all of the states that have inspectors general and read all of the annual reports, it’s all about systems. It’s all about fraud, waste and abuse and inefficiencies. Not once did they investigate one person because they did something bad a couple of years ago,’’