Government Integrity – Misuse of Public Funds (Watch) 

Government Integrity – Misuse of Public Funds (Watch) 

CS/CS/HB 7073 (formerly PCB PIE-04) (Public Integrity & Ethics Committee) is a proposed committee bill that establishes various provisions to promote integrity in government and to prevent fraud, waste and abuse relating to the expenditure of public funds. The bill amends various requirements applicable to state executive agencies relating to the Office of Chief Inspector General, agency inspectors general and state procurement. In addition, the bill includes substantial provisions relating to local government expenditures and use of state-appropriated funds. The bill creates the Florida accountability office, and the position of Florida accountability officer within the Office of the Auditor General. The bill authorizes the Florida accountability officer to investigate complaints alleging waste, fraud, abuse, misconduct or gross mismanagement (as defined in the bill) in connection with the expenditure of public funds within and by state and local government.  Complaints may be submitted by the speaker of the House, the Senate president, the chair of an appropriations committee in either the Senate or the House, or the auditor general. Upon receiving a complaint, the bill directs the accountability officer to determine whether the complaint alleges facts supporting a reasonable suspicion, and, if so, investigate the complaint and issue a report of findings to the Senate president and House speaker. Like the authority possessed currently by the Legislature, the bill gives the accountability officer the authority to inspect records of any public agency and the public records of any entity that has received public funds, including confidential information. The bill authorizes the accountability officer to refer a matter to the auditor general, the appropriate law enforcement agency, the Commission on Ethics, the chief financial officer, the Office of the Chief Inspector General or the appropriate agency inspector general. The bill directs the auditor general and the accountability officer to conduct random audits and inspections of appropriations projects appropriated in the prior year. The audit will include an evaluation of the performance of the recipient of the appropriations project and the effect and public value produced by the appropriations project. The bill was amended to authorize the accountability officer or the auditor general to inspect, audit, or investigate the financial activities of any unit of local government or other public entity.  The bill amends the state “Whistleblower Act,” which protects public employees that report various acts of wrong-doing by an employee, agent or independent contractor of a public agency. The bill defines “mismanagement” in the Whistleblower Act and broadens the category of complaints that may be covered by the act. Specifically, the bill covers complaints alleging “mismanagement,” “waste of public funds” and “neglect of duty” as opposed to “gross mismanagement,” "gross waste of public funds” and “gross neglect of duty” as under current law. The bill requires that for a claim for legal fees to be compensated or approved by a state or local agency, such claim must be documented by a description of the services provided, including the date the services were rendered, an itemization of the tasks performed and the time expended on each task. (O’Hara)