State Integrity released their review of Georgia corruption, and the news is as welcome as a spoiled peach down here. The state finished 50th out of 50 states, having the worst corruption in any state in America.
While Georgia did get a “B” in the category of Internal Auditing and a passing grade in Judicial Accountability, the state received F’s for numerous factors ranging from Legislative Accountability to Lobbying Disclosure to Redistricting and Political Financing.
To explain where Georgia’s woeful scores come from, Deron R. Hicks, a former Inspector General for the State of Georgia, addressed that very subject at a presentation at LaGrange College.
“We want things faster and better,” Hicks said. “Not that I want to sound like a curmudgeon, but that can sometimes lead to problems in government. We don’t value a methodical slow process of doing things.”
Hicks, also a noted author of mystery novels in his spare time, served at a time of many ethics complaints in Georgia, as well as the end of the stimulus spending in Georgia.
“When I was Georgia’s Inspector General, we investigated waste and fraud and abuse,” Hicks explained. We looked at fraud after it occurred, and before it did too.”
So how does fraud occur in government? “When we investigated fraud, or tried to head it off before it occurred, we looked for internal controls,” Hicks told his audience. “Those slow the process down, but also do a good job of combatting fraud. It can be as simple as requiring two signatures. In places that didn’t have them, we found fraud and the opportunity for it.”
Who commits fraud? “Some are criminal predators looking to commit fraud,” Hicks noted. “Others have no criminal background whatsoever at first, but three things happen. First, there is an opportunity to engage in fraud…no internal controls are there. Nothing slows down the process and double-checks what’s happening. The second is some sort of pressure, monetary or family or whatever. The third one is the idea of rationalization.”
What’s rationalization? “Let’s say, for example, someone takes $50 from the register at night, intending to pay it back, but doesn’t,” Hicks related for the students and faculty. “In some cases, a person walks off with $4,000 from an envelope to pay for a family member who needs medical help. Some even rationalize not getting caught at first, by thinking ‘God wanted me to have this money.'”
“States are in charge of a lot of Federal programs,” Hicks demonstrated for his audience. “Food stamps are one of them, but not all of the fraud.” Hicks related a story of a mom who traded EBT cards, cashing them out to buy crack. “We wouldn’t have known if a deputy hadn’t found a small child, wandering through a trailer park, looking for food.”
He also told the story of monitoring stimulus funds. “It was like the 1980s movie ‘Brewster’s Millions,’ where an individual was given a short time to spend a lot of money. There was such a rush to spend by the deadline that there were all kind of problems. Even folks in the Obama Administration would do it more slowly if they could do it all over again. It all goes back to rushing things, and no internal controls.”
With redundancy, and internal controls, Georgia’s government might move a little more slowly. But Hicks indicates that the cost of corruption make the reforms worth it.