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“Our job is to provide transparency,” State auditor reacts to attorney general hiring independent auditor

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OKLAHOMA - There’s a heated battle between elected leaders of two state agencies.

This year, the attorney general’s office is set to be audited by the state, like dozens of other agencies.

But, that won’t happen with AG Scott Pruitt if he has his way.

Pruitt wants an independent auditor.

The push-back comes on the heels of the very first audit of the AG’s office since Pruitt started the job.

Under Oklahoma law, the state auditor reviews the finances of every state agency from DHS to each district attorney’s office.

“While we do look at the financial statements, we also look at the fraud issues to determine there’s no fraud committed within an agency," said State Auditor Gary Jones. "We go a step further than what most audit firms do."

That’s to ensure taxpayer money is going where it’s intended.

You can see every audit on the state website.

This year, Jones’ office will audit 30 different agencies, including the office of the AG.

The last audit was in 2009 before Pruitt took office.

So, Jones was surprised when he got a letter from Pruitt saying he doesn’t want the state auditing his office.

“This is the first time we’ve actually received a letter saying they’re hiring their own auditor,” Jones said.

The AG’s office has a big budget that’s only gotten bigger.

The last audit in 2009 shows the AG spent about $28 million to run the office.

Now, the AG’s budget has grown by $12 million while, in that same time period, other state agencies have faced deep budget cuts.

Jones expects his team to get to work soon, unless Pruitt can find a state law allowing his office to be exempt.

“Our job is to provide transparency and accountability and, unless we’re able to go in and do our job, we can’t do that,” Jones said.

A legal battle is possible, but there’s another conflict of interest.

The state auditor’s office doesn’t have its own attorney.

They rely on the AG’s office to represent them.

The AG’s office declined to speak with NewsChannel 4 on camera.

They released the following statement:

"The Attorney General's Office has begun the bidding process to secure the services of an independent auditor, making it unnecessary for the state auditor to conduct the audit he proposed near the end of 2015. The independent audit will follow Government Auditing Standards, and will be in line with what the Attorney General's Office would have paid to the state Auditor's Office if it had conducted the audit. It is common for state agencies to seek independent audits. Reasonable minds could infer a conflict on the behalf of the auditor, given his recent critical comments to the media about this agency after he suggested the audit. Auditors and accountants are guided by their professional code of ethics to avoid conflicts of interest in the performance of their duties. An independent audit will provide the same information about the finances of the Attorney General's Office and the audit will be made available to the public and the state auditor after its completion." – Mike Hunter, First Assistant Attorney General

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