DENVER Colorados wildlife agency made a $32 million goof in part because no one on the oversight commission wanted to ask a stupid question, the state natural resources director said Monday.
The State Auditors Office on Monday confirmed the $32.4 million error, which was uncovered last summer, and blamed it on high turnover at the former Division of Wildlife, bad bookkeeping practices and poor communication before the divisions staff members and its citizen oversight commission.
Members of the Legislative Audit Committee grilled leaders of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife agency about the error.
How do you not account for $32 million? Thats an enormous number, said Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Littleton.
The agencys annual budget is about $140 million.
It did not mis-spend the money, and nothing illegal is suspected. But the staff members reported incorrect numbers to the Wildlife Commission, and as a result the commission voted to spend money it didnt have.
Last year, the Division of Wildlife which has since merged with the state parks division had to put on hold or cancel all its major capital projects, including the planned move of its regional headquarters from Durango to Gunnison.
I dont think there is a good answer as to how did this happen, said Mike King, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the new Colorado Parks and Wildlife agency. In the most basic term, money was spent and not deducted from the checking account.
The Wildlife Commission decided in 2006 to maintain a 10 percent reserve in its largest account. But between 2007 and 2011, the divisions staff members did not report the reserve number to commissioners or reported the numbers incorrectly, the audit found.
Instead, commissioners heard reports about other financial figures that might have been confusing.
Rather than wanting to be the one to ask the proverbial stupid question that isnt stupid, I think the commission deferred to staff, King said.
But most of the blame does not lie with the commission, said Rick Cables, director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The agency itself, I think, bears the bulk of the responsibility, Cables said.
Two key budget jobs chief financial officer and controller went unfilled for a year each between 2008 and 2010, the audit said. A new team that started work last year uncovered the error.
Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, wanted to know if anyone would be punished.
Lets talk about accountability. Whos being held accountable in your department for this gross error? she said.
No one will be punished for the error, King said. But the former chief financial officer and the former division head have been replaced, he said.
Those departures happened before the error was uncovered.
Part of the problem happened because the budget staff members failed to account for payments to businesses that sell hunting and fishing licenses, the audit said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife gets its funding from hunting and fishing licenses, park entrance fees and federal support. It does not get state taxpayer support.
The agencys budget is recovering quickly because of sales of elk licenses to out-of-state hunters, King said.