It’s one of the best things that State Auditor Beth Wood and those in her office do: Spot inefficiencies that don’t make sense in state government and recommend how to fix them.
The auditor’s latest review shows that North Carolina has lax oversight of the multitude of boards that have to do with licensing businesses and professions, such as the Board of Opticians or the Board of Barber Examiners or the Board of Cosmetic Art Examiners.
For one thing – and this is no confidence-builder – the Attorney General’s Office lists 55 boards to regulate, but the Joint Legislative Administrative Procedure Oversight Commission lists 57. How could that happen? Well, the audit said, some who compile board listings said they used to get the information from state agencies but say it’s now pretty much word of mouth.
The audit rightly recommends that the General Assembly clarify which agencies should monitor licensing boards and how they ought to do it. No kidding.
The boards, after all, do spend public money in carrying out their duties. And the audit found that 38 percent of the boards didn’t comply with requirements on financial reporting deadlines. But nobody seemed to care. Or nobody was watching.
The audit also found that some members of some boards didn’t finish required training in ethics and open meetings laws and public records.
“The lack of oversight,” the audit said, “at the state level increases the risk that boards are not providing adequate services to licensees or the public or have financial issues that are not detected.”
In other words, if no one is watching the boards, whether their work gets done is dependent on the competence of individual boards.
Thankfully, some boards do a sound job. The Board of Barber Examiners, for example, checked 99 percent of barbershops to evaluate sanitation. And the Board of Cosmetic Art Examiners inspected every facility it oversees. That board spent its $2.6 million annual budget wisely it appears.
And the Board of Opticians also did a good job, doing 838 inspections.
But the Board of Funeral Service inspected just 20 percent of facilities. That’s not acceptable, and the individual or agency responsible for overseeing the Board of Funeral Service must be held responsible. More importantly, the problem must be fixed immediately.
Wood’s report is properly stern. Without routine inspections by the boards responsible for them, rules and standards mean virtually nothing. That can lead to problems: Consider all the services provided by funeral homes, for example. They deal with families at particularly vulnerable times and must be held to account for whether they deliver services as promised in a professional manner. The state owes those families, and the customers affected by the services of virtually countless other businesses in 55 – or 57 – fields the reassurance and protection that oversight provides. Or is supposed to.