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Audit reveals more loose accounting, this time in oil spill fund

Oil refinery

A state audit released on Tuesday provides new evidence on how loose accounting can lead to inaccurate reports, false alarms and even misguided policies.

The review examined the Oil Spill Prevention and Administration Fund, which collects fees on oil transportation to help fund preparations for environmentally damaging spills. For at least four years, the governor’s office overstated the amount of money in the fund, sometimes by millions of dollars, before correcting the numbers last year.

The audit said that analysts responsible for handling accounting at the Department of Fish and Game, which manages the fund, had no experience and little training for preparing financial documents essential to planning the state’s budget.

Then, in June 2011, department officials said the spill fund would end up $17.7 million in the red by June 2014. Lawmakers sprang into action, jacking up the per-barrel fee charged on oil transfers.

However, the department’s financial calculations were “not as accurate as they could have been,” the audit said, and fees may have been increased more than necessary. That's partially because the department wasn't getting all the federal money it was entitled to.

[Updated 4:08 p.m.: Richard Stapler, a spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency, which oversees the Department of Fish and Game, said the fee increases were necessary and not the result of faulty calculations.

“Going forward, we feel we’re in a very sound place," Stapler said.

Department officials said the other concerns raised by the audit have already been addressed.

Senator Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) criticized the department for failing to get all available federal dollars.

I would like to say that this is shocking, but after the recent money scandals in our parks department, it appears to be business as usual," he said in a statement.]

Similar problems have plagued the state’s management of its 500-plus special funds, which have come under increasing scrutiny since officials found a $54-million hidden surplus earlier this summer at the parks department. State officials had not been comparing data from the governor’s office, which plans the budget, with those from the controller’s office, which manages cash flow, leading to a series of embarrassing accounting discrepancies.

A review by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration found 68 accounts in which bottom lines varied by at least $1 million. Errors such as typos and miscalculations led to $268.5 million in accounting errors.

ALSO:

California finds $119 million more in untapped funds

California lawmakers probe parks department, special funds

Brown administration pledges to keep closer eye on special funds

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
twitter.com/chrismegerian

Photo: An oil rig off Huntington Beach in August. Credit: Grant Hindsley / Associated Press

 
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