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LYCEUM: Rhode Island Auditor General: “Ready to Ride and Spread the Alarm”


2/20/2006

Ernest Almonte, Rhode Island auditor general, with Ira Solomon, head of the Department of Accountancy.Like a modern Paul Revere, Rhode Island Auditor General Ernest Almonte delivers a message of fiscal awareness on a personal and governmental level.

During a February Accountancy Lyceum presentation, Almonte (left in photo with Ira Solomon, head of the Department of Accountancy) told undergraduate students and faculty members that they need to push for accountability and transparency in federal, state, and local fiscal reporting so that they – and other members of the public – are better informed. Accounting professionals, he said, “have to learn to tell people what they need to hear.”

Almonte highlighted spending in the last 40 years, showing the decline in military spending (from 46% of the federal budget in 1964 to 20% in 2004) and the sharp upturn in spending for Medicare (from nothing in 1964 because the program did not yet exist to 19% in 2004). “I’m an optimistic guy,” Almonte said. “But the numbers [of the federal deficit] are all big and all bad. We have a serious problem that is a short time away.” He noted that state and local governments are in worse shape than people generally think, partly because fiscal reporting is difficult to understand and because accounting rules make it easy to under-report the true financial impact of expenditures and obligations.

Like government spending, personal savings have also declined with too many Americans spending more than they take in. He urged students to get their personal finances in order to better weather the impact of the deficit on their lives. That impact would likely take the form of higher state or local taxes or a reduction in services, with the resulting need for citizens to purchase services on their own.

Almonte is taking steps to help people become educated about the problem and playing a part in finding solutions. In addition to his evangelical quest to inform citizens, he and his staff in the auditor general’s office offer training sessions for local government officials, most of whom are not trained accountants. The training programs help local officials better understand the financial reports they receive and the long- and short-term implications of their policy and budgetary decisions. He offers similar sessions for reporters and media representatives.

Ernest Almonte was appointed Auditor General of the State of Rhode Island in 1994. With a professional staff of more than 40, he is responsible for audits of the state's financial statements, federal audits of grants and appropriations, and oversight of quasi-public agencies and municipalities. Prior to his appointment, he was the chief executive officer and owner of a public accounting firm. Almonte serves as the chair of the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and has been appointed by the Comptroller General of the United States to the Advisory Council on Government Auditing Standards and the Domestic Working Group of the Federal GAO.

In concluding his remarks, Almonte told his audience that he needs their help in getting his message out. “I want this information to catch on like an educational virus.”

--Ginny Hudak-David

UIUC College of Business