A recently released legislative audit highlighted funding issues in the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks (FWP). The audit looked at expenditures from the two previous fiscal years ending on June 30, 2021.
The audit is conducted by the Montana Legislative Audit Division every two years to determine whether an agency’s financial operations are properly conducted.
The Audit’s Findings
In its prior audit report, the division recommended the department implement new procedures, or enforce its current expenditure control procedures, to ensure it sets enough money aside for vehicle and aircraft fleet purchases. The audit also found that FWP may not be approving fleet vehicle purchases properly. Additionally, auditors found that they could not determine whether a grant that helped fund an auditor within the division was accounted for properly.
In order to successfully operate finances within the department, the audit said the program supervisor should review and approve all expenditures to determine whether they are both accurate and allowed. Auditors sampled 36 operating expenditure transactions and identified 18 expenditures that were not approved by a program supervisor related to the department’s fleet usage. Five of the expenditures were charged to the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration grant programs. Fleet expenditures were approximately $1.4 million and $1.7 million in FY21 and FY22, respectively.
Auditors recommend FWP enforce its current control procedures to require reviews of all expenditures by a program supervisor.
Department personnel stated that they did begin requiring the program supervisor’s approval on fleet operating expenditures in January 2022. The audit did not look at expenses after this period, since the audit did not cover that period.
Internal Service Funds Balance Troubles
Montana state agencies keep internal service funds, which track expenses and purchases that provide support and services to other parts of the agency from a central group, according to the Daily Montanan.
State law requires the agency charge back or allocate the costs from that fund to the specific divisions within the department, in order to maintain inventory, perform maintenance, or replace equipment.
Auditors found that the FWP’s aircraft operating fund fell from 62 days of working capital in 2020 to -61 days in 2021. Auditors said fund balances should have 60 days of working capital.
FWP Responds to Audit
FWP director Hank Worsech responded to the audit with a letter, saying the department was working to make improvements. He explained that the department is working with key personnel to ensure compliance with current control procedures in expenditures.
As for the aircraft operating fund, FWP stated that it tried to acquire a helicopter in fiscal year 2020, but no helicopters met its quality standards. In fiscal year 2021, a helicopter was made available that met the department’s standards and a purchase was made, depleting the fund. According to the Daily Montanan, the chargebacks after the purchase had not been readjusted, leading to the negative balance.