A $32 million accounting error?

Most of us have made record-keeping mistakes with our checkbooks or bank accounts.

That’s essentially what officials with the Colorado Division of Wildlife did — to the tune of $32 million — according to Department of Natural Resources Director Mike King.

“In the most basic terms, the money was spent but wasn’t deducted from the checkbook,” King told the Associated Press.

We like King and think he’s done a good job as head of the state’s Natural Rosources Department. But we don’t believe his analogy quite captures what occurred.

Read the State Auditor’s report that was completed last month and you get a different picture of what happened.

The report said that in three of the past five years, staff at the Division of Wildlife apparently failed to comply with requirements to provide the Colorado Wildlife Commission with annual reports of its unobligated reserves in the wildlife cash fund. The Wildlife Commission was the governor-appointed group that used to oversee wildlife policy and spending.

The auditor’s report also found that in the two years that DOW staff did provide the Wildlife Commission with the required report, it did so with incorrect information.

The auditor’s report didn’t suggest this was done intentionally or maliciously. Rather, it suggests staff at the DOW simply didn’t understand the mandates from the Wildlife Commission, in part because there had been a lot of turnover in the division.

Maybe so, but it’s hard to understand how the Wildife Commission was able to authorize spending over several years that drew cash funds down by $32 million more than the commission realized without someone saying, “Hey, wait a minute!”

No wonder lawmakers of both political parties are upset and demanding more explanation.

This budget confusion came to light as a result of legislation last year that merged the DOW with the state Division of Parks. The Wildlife Commission is now the Parks and Wildlife Board.

One recommendation of the State Auditor is that the new agency work with the governor-appointed Parks and Wildlife Board “to train key Division of Parks and Wildlife staff on the requirements of the Board policy.”

That certainly seems obvious. One can only wonder why that wasn’t done from the beginning.

There are also more specific recommendations for documenting and standardizing accounting and record-keeping practices for Parks and Wildlife. Again, they are sensible and necessary.

But we would add another recommendation: Make all of this information easily accessible and readable for sportsmen or other members of the public who want to track it online. As it is now, it’s not easy to find this budget information on either the Division of Wildlife website or that of the Department of Natural Resources.

Transparency should be a key part of the remedy.


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