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South Carolina accountant resigns over $3.5 billion error

South Carolina accountant resigns over $3.5 billion error

South Carolina’s beleaguered top accountant will step down next month after a $3.5 billion error in the year-end financial report he oversaw, according to a resignation letter written Thursday and obtained by the ‘Associated Press.

Republican Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom’s decision to leave the post he has held for 20 years came after scrutiny of his performance following the blunder and amid growing calls for him. resign or be removed.

The Senate committee investigating financial inaccuracies released a damning report last week accusing Eckstrom of “willful neglect of duty.” Just last week, however, Eckstrom said he would not step down.

“I have never taken lightly the government service I love or the jobs I have been elected to, striving to work with my colleagues…to be a strong taxpayer advocate and good steward of their hard-earned tax money,” Eckstrom wrote in the letter to South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. “They deserve nothing less.”

The governor accepted the resignation, effective April 30.

The Senate report concluded that Eckstrom was solely responsible for the mapping error, which occurred during the state’s transition to a new internal information system from 2011 to 2017. Officials State said Eckstrom had ignored auditors’ warnings for years about a “material weakness” in his office. and erroneous cash reports.

Eckstrom said the comprehensive annual financial report overstated state cash balances for a decade by double counting the money sent to colleges and universities. The error was not resolved until a junior staff member corrected the error this fall.

Officials said the overstatement did not affect the state budget. But the legislators alarmed by Eckstrom’s inconsistent testimony criticized its failure to fulfill one of its primary constitutional duties: to publish an accurate account of state finances.

The fallout for the state agency that typically flies under the radar is set to continue. A Senate subcommittee recently approved a joint resolution this would allow voters to decide whether the comptroller general should remain elected or be appointed by the governor. Eckstrom reiterated his support for the change Thursday in his resignation letter.

The next Comptroller General may also lead a much weaker office. The investigation committee suggested that its responsibilities be transferred to one or more organizations. State Treasurer Curtis Loftis, a Republican elected official, testified that his office could absorb major duties.

Republican Senator Larry Grooms, who led the investigation, said the Comptroller General’s office could also be “completely eliminated.”

Grooms thanked Eckstrom for doing the “honorable thing” and sparing the General Assembly from using an arcane state constitutional provision to remove him from office.

Between a 104-7 vote in the House to cut the comptroller general’s annual salary to $1 and the Senate vote scheduled for April 11 to oust Eckstrom, Grooms suggested the rising heat had become too intense for him to stay. at work.

The Senate must now select a replacement for the remainder of Eckstrom’s term, which ends in 2027. Grooms said the next comptroller general should be someone who recognizes his job is to spend the next three years overseeing the incorporation of the office into other state agencies. . He does not expect any more heads to roll.

“The buck stops with him,” Grooms said. “The responsibility was with him.”

A chartered accountant, Eckstrom, 74, spent four years as state treasurer before assuming his current role. He ran unopposed in the last two elections and last faced a Republican primary opponent in 2010.

McMaster — who had resisted calls for impeachment and endorsed elections as the appropriate vehicle for accountability — thanked Eckstrom for his 24 years of “devoted service.” The governor previously served as state attorney general alongside Eckstrom early in the comptroller general’s tenure.

“The Eckstrom and McMaster families have been good friends for decades,” McMaster said Thursday in a letter accepting the resignation. “I know that all of your wishes have been and always will be prosperity and happiness for the people of South Carolina.”

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