Suzanne Bump Seeking Re-election as Auditor
Auditor Suzanne Bump of Great Barrington is running for re-election.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In her efforts to modernize the auditor's office, Suzanne Bump has found some $400 million in misspent taxpayer money.
Bump is now running for re-election so she can continue her efforts both through auditing various state departments and improving the auditor's office.
"We made a deliberate focus on the quality of our work and not the quantity. With the audits we've done, we identified an unprecedented amount of broken systems, misspending and potential fraud and abuse. In fact $400 million worth," Bump said on Friday.
Most notable of Bump's audit was that of the Department of Transitional Assistance in which Bump identified thousands of welfare recipients who were cheating the system.
"We identified over 1,000 people who were getting benefits by using the Social Security number of someone who was dead. Another 1,000 dependents parents were getting benefits for with false social security numbers," Bump said.
The report wasn't received very well by some, even in her own Democratic Party, who criticized her for the findings. Gov. Deval Patrick questioned her numbers and others felt the dollar figures were too little and that she should be looking for bigger cases.
Nothing the less she "rolled with the punches" and the system ultimately was improved.
"The point was that this is a program that is very much on the minds of the public and program integrity is key across government. I regard this as a vitally important program and we have to have people believe in it if they are to continue to fund it," she said.
Another audit of the MBTA showed that the board of directors had pushed through collection technology on buses and trains before it had been tested.
"It couldn't accurately count the amount of money that was collected on buses and light rail vehicles. They spent $94 million on the system," Bump said. "Since its inception there was $100 million that they couldn't account for. They would collect the money, add it up and then bring it to the bank. The bank would count it. And there was $100 million discrepancy between what the T said and what the bank said," she said.
"The bottom line is that if you can't accurately count the money that is being taken in, you can't tell if the money is being stolen. We weren't alleging that it had been stolen. We were alleging that it was imprudent of them to not fix the system."
The directors have since fixed the machines.
Bump also audited the Department of Children and Families and found a lack of departmental funding had left its foster program without enough social workers, training, case management technology and oversight.
"The agency was unable to do its job because it was starved for resources," she said.
Bump says her role is to give an objective look at the operations. Her focus is not simply how to improve the on-the-service operation issues such as how to provide services quicker, but to dig deep into an issue.
"I'm not content to do an audit and just address a symptom," she said, such as the DCF audit which then told legislators what they can do to improve the system.
"If decision makers have better information, they will make better decisions."
But it is not just dishing out criticism to department heads. Bump says she can take it, too. In 2011, a group of auditors from other states looked at the Massachusetts office. What they found was that the auditor's office didn't have the skills, training, technology and audit procedures it needed to do the job properly.
"If you fail in those measures, people don't have any reason to believe your audits," Bump said. "We are focusing on quality in the office."
Since then Bump implemented a turnover of employees, getting rid of those who couldn't properly do the job and adding educational requirements to new hires. She created an in-house training program to train both new workers and keep current employees up to date with changes in the field. And she placed an emphasis on data analysis and the technology needed for it.
Now, that same audit group says Massachusetts is one of the best.
"The data analytics is a big deal. Instead of just doing reports based on the information that one agency has, we are integrating data from other sources that can help give us a deeper look," Bump said.
Data analytics is intended to dig even deeper into a system. Bump used Berkshire Works as an example. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development knows how many people took a certain training course. But, they don't know if those people got jobs afterward.
The analytics couples the Department of Revenue data with the Labor and Workforce Development data for an array of information about the outcome those programs are having - such as the types of jobs workers are getting from taking the course.
Bump says if she wins election, she hopes to grow the use of analysis and continue digging into various state programs.
But the office is also tasked with assessing the health care system to determine if the laws are reducing employer costs, changing out-of-pocket costs for residents, having an impact on public health, and health outcomes.
"That's a big task that is ongoing," she said.
Meanwhile, she is lobbying the Legislature to give her the authority to look at corporate tax returns. Bump wants to do an analysis of the tax policies and the incentives offered to business. But, she can't without seeing the returns and she needs to Legislature pass a law allowing her to do so.
"I am trying to get the policy to do so. It requires a change in the law and the business community is opposed to it," she said. "We should be able to measure the success of our tax policies in the same way we can measure the success in our education policies, our transportation policies or our child protection policies."
"There needs to be an objective analysis of if they are working."
Bump just finished her first term in office and is looking for another four years. She is up against Republican Patricia Saint Aubin and Green-Rainbow party MK Merelice.
"I knew that it would take a number of years to transform the office and I want those changes to take root," Bump said.
Bump started her political career as a legislative aid and became elected to the state House of Representatives in 1985 and served until 1993. She then went into the private sector, working for a number of law firms and starting her own practice. In 2007, she went back into the public sector as the Gov. Deval Patrick's appointee as the secretary of labor and workforce development and resigned two years later to run for auditor, becaming the first women elected to the office.