State auditor: There's a 'transparency issue' with the Governor's use of state airplanes

Jun 28, 2018

State auditor Josh Gallion speaks to the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee.
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

State auditor Josh Gallion said the Governor’s office needs more transparency in its reasons for using state airplanes for travel.

The three planes are in the Department of Transportation budget. The budget for air travel is $2.1 million for the biennium for all state agencies.

Gallion told the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee that reasons for some of the trips both current Gov.Doug Burgum and former Gov. Jack Dalrymple took were not clearly spelled out.

"What do you do, when we see actions but have no transactions within an organization to audit?" Gallion told the Committee. "There's no documentation, no expenses, no trail. We clearly had a transparency issue."

Gallion told the Committee there were issues with allowing non-state employees to ride on the planes, without a stated business purpose, as well as using the planes to bring a Governor or Lieutenant Governor from their home towns to Bismarck – something Gallion labeled as “commuting.”

In response, Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatski told the Committee the use of the state aircraft was to conduct state business, and to further the Administration’s goals.

"We're operatuing within budget, within established guidelines and policy, and within common practice of prior Administrations," Nowatski said. "We had a strong focus on efficiency, impact and return on investment, while using txpayer resources in a prudent manner."

Nowatski said the reasons for using the plane were spelled out in the Governor's schedule, which is apublic document.

The committee’s chairman – State Sen. Jerry Klein (R-Fessenden) – said there might have to be a tightening of procedures and documentation when the Governor’s office uses a state plane.

"In general, we're using the plane the way we're supposed to," Klein said. "But once in a while, there's an outlier that make people look bad. If we improve on that, that's the direction we need to be going."