House OKs plan to open secret info to auditor general

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The state House unanimously approved Tuesday a bill that would let the state Auditor General’s office gather and review confidential state information in a push for more transparency.

Sponsor and House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Joseph Graves, R-Argentine Township, said the bill makes it clear that state agencies have to hand over confidential information so the auditor general can properly oversee state government. He said the office can’t do that if state agencies are shielding information.

“Departments love to put up roadblocks,” Graves said.

The lack of access to confidential information does hinder audits, but the lawmaker said he could not provide examples of such instances.

“Confidential information” could potentially include a large trove of documents, but Graves said the most important change the measure would solidify is the inability for departments to use confidentiality as “an excuse” to shield certain information.

A similar measure passed the House last year but died in the Senate, where it is headed again.

Graves said he hopes prospects for passage have improved this year because Senate Oversight Committee Chairman Peter MacGregor, R-Rockford, is backing it.

Under the legislation, the auditor general’s office would use confidential information to review state agencies, but the secret information would not be included in the public audit reports.

The Auditor General’s Office has brought to light problems at the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency, poor conditions and a failure to investigate abuse and neglect allegations at the state-run Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, and has fueled a debate about culpability in the wake of the Flint water crisis.

The Michigan Auditor General’s office became the Legislature’s oversight body after the 1963 changes to the state Constitution.