BILOXI -- The state Department of Marine Resources will need more money from the Legislature to avoid layoffs and loss of programs and it will need an overhaul in the way it accounts for its spending to restore the public's trust, its executive director said Tuesday.
"Clearly there is an environment and culture at MDMR that is susceptible to fraud, waste and abuse, which must be changed," Executive Director Jamie Miller said.
Shortly after Miller took over as executive director, he said he would order a 60-day review of the agency. The highly critical review, conducted by Horne CPAs and Business Advisors, found 17 areas at high risk for such problems, according to a report Miller released Tuesday. They include oversight, budgeting, procurement and purchasing, inventory, organizational structure and others.
"I believe we have been living in a false environment and certainly for the past five years we have not represented our finances in an accurate and honest way, in my opinion," Miller said. "We did not reach the current budget situation overnight and it will take more than 60 days to address it."
At the end of the fiscal year June 30, the agency will
have a deficit of $600,000 to $800,000, Miller said. The projected deficit for the next fiscal year is about $2 million, he said. He said he'll ask the Legislature for help.
"It's going to be up to me and our folks here," said Miller of a meeting he hopes to have with legislators, "to make a persuasive case of the value of the services provided, the need to provide those services to match federal grants which expand our reach and their trust in us for receiving that money and doing what we said we were going to do with it.
"I don't know what the outcome of that will be but we'll make a very persuasive and honest case for that money."
Without more money, Miller said the agency would have to look at cutting personnel.
"Saving gas and buying fewer notebooks and pencils is not going to get it," he said. "I think people are quickly going to see that we're able to justify that money. We're going to do everything we can to save the jobs here."
He said he didn't expect an answer from lawmakers for 60 to 90 days.
One of the key pieces of the overhaul will be the hiring of a chief financial officer to oversee all finances and report directly to Miller. That job will pay about $70,000, which is Deputy Director Danny Guice's salary. The deputy director position will be folded into the CFO position and Guice will retire at the end of the month, Miller said.
He said it will be tough to find a good CFO at that price.
"We're going to hope they have a good heart and want to do good things," he said. "It's absolutely a barrier and challenge to state government to find very capable and qualified people at that level to come work for $50,000, $60,000 when they can get $150,000 in the private sector. But I believe there is a credible group of folks that either may have been retired or a quality up-and-coming person with strong credentials that would want to take on this job. We just got to go find them."
The problem with grants
Another key change recommended in the report is an Office of Grants Management and Compliance to oversee all grants and ensure all laws are followed.
"We effectively have people in the agency who function as grant administrators, but they've been kind of existing on islands throughout the agency," he said. "So what we're going to do is centralize them, bring them under one roof, have a competent manager there and over the top of that have our CFO."
Horne found grant oversight generally is now provided by the person who wrote the grant and the executive director rarely has the information needed to make timely decisions about the management of grants.
It suggests the DMR look at creating an internal accounting system that would centralize all financial information and provide real-time reports.
"I think every federal grant, whether it's $50,000 or $50 million, the paperwork looks the same, so there's none that are less problematic. We are susceptible to failures with all grant programs, not that we are, but we are not in a system that is in control that way that keeps us out of that trouble."
The report was critical of oversight by the Commission on Marine Resources and suggested the DMR provide it more financial reports.
"In performing their responsibilities, the commission holds monthly meetings to review the monthly activity of MDMR," the Horne report said. "However, we noted that information is not requested nor provided to the commission for them to fulfill their responsibilities in establishing adequate controls to ensure that MDMR is complying with all legal requirements, meeting established goals and objectives, adhering to approved policies and attaining adequate performance in all program areas."
Miller said such reporting soon will be on the agency's website.
"We are going to provide reporting detail about our agency through our website," he said. "You won't have to search for it or call (Department of Finance and Administration) or other state agencies -- you're going to be able to link directly to our contracts or our grants or our travel, those types of things, online."
Commission Chairman Vernon Asper agreed there has been a lack of oversight.
"We're dependent on these federal grants coming in," he said. "If they stop if we mess it up and the federal government cuts us off because we don't have this office in place and we're not providing the oversight, we're dead in the water. This agency will come to a screeching halt."