By Todd Richmond
MADISON — Eight Wisconsin agencies that spent tens of millions of dollars on economic development programs don’t have a complete picture of the payoff, according to a state audit released Tuesday.
The Legislative Audit Bureau reviewed the agencies’ economic development grants and loans as well as program administration for the four years beginning in July 2007. The study found the agencies spent $226.5 million during the 2009-11 biennium but couldn’t provide auditors with results for 22 of 123 programs active during that time as required by a 2007 state law. The state’s flagship economic development agency, the now-defunct Commerce Department, couldn’t supply results for 15 of its 55 programs.
The audit also found that an October 2010 report that was supposed to detail program outcomes didn’t include any information for about a third of the programs active that year and didn’t include results for more than half of the programs mentioned.
Auditors also couldn’t determine how many jobs the programs have created or retained. They blamed inconsistent reporting and noted a number of programs they reviewed still are ongoing.
The audit comes as the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation takes over the Commerce Department’s functions. Republican Gov. Scott Walker abolished the department last year and created WEDC in its place, saying the new agency would approach economic development more like a private company. Auditors recommended WEDC lead the other seven agencies in developing goals and accountability measures.
According to a letter to auditors attributed to WEDC Secretary Paul Jadin, the 15 Commerce Department programs that lacked results information provided technical assistance and weren’t designed to produce performance benchmarks. What’s more, agency heads need clarification about what programs are subject to the results reporting requirement mandated by law.
“The audit findings make clear that additional direction would be useful in determining which state agency programs fall under the scope of reporting, and in developing clear measurements for those programs,” Jadin wrote.
According to a statement attributed to State Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Randall, the co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s audit committee said the panel plans to hold a public hearing on the findings.
“There are still unanswered questions as the Department of Commerce transitions to WEDC,” Kerkman said. “This is a fresh opportunity to improve transparency and program results as we move forward.”