The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.
It seemed like such a great idea.
Back on April 30, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale agreed to audit the waiver process used to decide which businesses could open while others remained closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He did so at the request of Republican legislators and with the blessing of Gov. Tom Wolf.
DePasquale didn’t offer a timeline back then, but he promised that it would be quick.
Four months later, the audit hasn’t been completed – and there’s been no word on when DePasquale’s office will release it.
“Business owners deserve to know if waivers were granted consistently and without undue outside influence,” DePasquale said during a May 14 news conference.
“Because COVID-19 is going to be with us for a while, I want to make sure the waiver process truly reflects the delicate balance of protecting lives and livelihoods.”
The auditor general has said nothing publicly about the report since that news conference.
The waiver process was cumbersome and lacked transparency and consistency – allowing one competitor to open, while another remained closed.
Making matters worse, Wolf stopped processing open records requests, including some about the waivers, citing closed offices due to the pandemic.
About 40,000 businesses applied for a waiver; only about 8,000 received one.
Wolf said he created the waiver system to provide flexibility to business owners.
“We tried to do the right thing. Were some mistakes made? Maybe, and if they were, the folks in Pennsylvania have every right to know about that,” the governor said in welcoming the audit.
Meanwhile, Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries is accusing DePasquale of a conflict of interest. He maintains Wolf was a recent guest at a fundraiser for DePasquale, who is running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 10th district.
It probably wasn’t the best idea to have a public official running for Congress to conduct this audit.
If DePasquale absolves Wolf of blame, Republicans will attack him. If DePasquale is critical of Wolf, Democrats will condemn him.
Of course, Wolf could have avoided this by setting up a consistent and fair waiver process in the first place. What we got instead was a program riddled with questionable decisions and lacking any hint of transparency.
DePasquale promised a quick audit of the waiver program. He needs to deliver on that and not allow his run for Congress to influence the timely release of his findings.