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Accounting firm finds problems at troubled MDMR

mdmrBILOXI — The head of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources said today that the agency is “susceptible to fraud, waste and abuse” and must change its own work environment.

Jamie Miller’s comments came as he released results of an accounting firm’s review of the agency. It was conducted during Miller’s first 60 days as executive director of the agency that had been beset by problems with spending and communication.

The assessment by HORNE CPAs & Business Advisors found MDMR uses outdated procedures; does an inadequate job of reporting information to its governing body, the Commission on Marine Resources; and, has too little oversight for some functions, such as grant management.

The assessment also found communication has been inadequate, both inside the agency and from the agency to the public.

And, it found the agency has not followed some requirements of the state fiscal agency, the Department of Finance and Administration.

MDMR has been under state and federal investigations for its spending practices. In January, the agency’s governing board fired Bill Walker as executive director. Gov. Phil Bryant nominated Miller for the job in March, and the Senate confirmed Miller in early April.

“Clearly, there is an environment and culture at MDMR that is susceptible to fraud, waste and abuse, which must be changed,” Miller said in an agency news release Tuesday. “I have already identified several of the key deficiencies and have begun addressing them. The depth and significance of the deficiencies identified in the agency assessment will require an extensive amount of time and assistance for MDMR to appropriately and adequately remediate, and I remain committed to making sure MDMR gets on the right track as quickly as possible.”

The accounting firm recommends that MDMR designate a senior-level employee as chief financial officer and/or comptroller who would be responsible for evaluating, improving and reporting financial information for the entire agency.

The firm also recommends that MDMR put more emphasis on ethics. The report said the agency should set up an ethics hotline that any employee could use, anonymously and confidentially, to report any possible unethical behavior in the agency.

“Although the agency has established a Code of Ethical Conduct for all employees, as well as a specific Code of Ethical Conduct for the Accounting and Finance Department, neither document was displayed in prominent areas to be readily and regularly seen by the employees,” the report said.

Miller said that MDMR already has reduced the number of contract employees it uses, from 32 to 16; has reorganized its internal structure and staff duties; and has hired a new chief scientific officer.


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