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New Massachusetts auditor to scrutinize state agencies, contractors with equity lens

 Mass. State Auditor Diana DiZoglio pictured in November 2022.
Sam Doran
/
State House News Service
Mass. State Auditor Diana DiZoglio pictured in November 2022.

Diana DiZoglio was sworn in as the new state auditor, Wednesday in her hometown, at Methuen High School. Before her swearing in, DiZoglio said she wants to expand the role of the auditor beyond financial scrutiny, and to include a social justice and equity lens on her audits. DiZoglio explains how much help she's gotten during the transition from the now-former auditor, Suzanne Bump.

Diana DiZoglio, state auditor: Their office has actually been quite accessible and has been great in ensuring that we have the information we need to get to work on day one. We have been meeting with the auditor and her staff. There are ongoing audits that are currently happening as we speak actually, and we're looking to make sure that there's a seamless transition to begin to incorporate the work that I've committed to do. And I am encouraged by the fact that they have been incredibly helpful and making sure that the transition is a success alongside my transition team.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Do you expect that in those audits that are already happening, you'll be able to put a social justice and equity lens on those, or will that happen in audits that you'll be initiating after these wind up?

We talk about different ways to incorporate social justice and equity into these audits and the way that we think about these things. A lot of folks have asked me, how do you plan on doing all of these extra audits, in addition to all of the audits the auditor's office is already required to do? The answer is that a lot of the things that we've committed to, most of the things that we've committed to are actually issues that would fall within the scope of an audit that's already required. For example, we wanted to do an MBTA safety audit to make sure that riders who rely on public transportation in order to get to work, to get to school, to get to their health care appointments, so on and so forth, that they have access to safe transportation without having to worry about trains literally catching on fire. Now, the office of the state auditor is already required to conduct audits of the Department of Transportation. We on our team decided to add in the safety aspect, again to make sure that folks who are riding the trains feel safe, feel secure.

So, we will be incorporating these things into the audit scopes that are currently in existence, but we are including things with folks on the ground level. And I can say that the things that we're incorporating have been things that folks have raised to us during the course of the last year-and-a-half and beyond.

As you might know, I was a state representative for six years, a state senator for four years. I learned a lot about folks who are struggling to get access to our state government and to be able to have a seat at the table. But they haven't been able to have a seat at the table because Massachusetts is actually the least transparent state government in the entire nation.

You campaigned on opening up state government and making it accessible to all. So how soon can you do that? What is the timeline?

Well, we plan on using the full powers of the auditor's office to make sure that we are analyzing and reporting on those state contracts that we are reporting and analyzing on issues such as taxpayer funded nondisclosure agreements that have been used in state government to cover up issues such as sexual harassment or discrimination or abuse, allowing for powerful politicians and others to be able to use our tax dollars to cover up misdeeds in state government.

So, making sure that we're following the dollars in a salient example, like NDAs, nondisclosure agreements that might be funded by you, the taxpayer, and making sure that we can use the information that we find to then advocate for meaningful change to prevent abusive practices from continuing to occur. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. So, we're looking to get to work right away on that.

You've been known to go against the Democratic leaders in the legislature at times criticizing current Senate President Karen Spilka for opposing a legislative staffer union, former speaker Bob DeLeo, over those nondisclosure agreements.  Today, how would you describe your relationship with top Democrats, and do you expect those relationships to change?

I think it's important that the state auditor be able to be an independent voice for the people of Massachusetts, as she is the watchdog of state government, responsible for ensuring that there is accountability, transparency and equity across the board. Certainly I am someone who has stood up to both Democratic and Republican leadership when it's come to matters of transparency, matters of accountability. I often would take to the floor in the state Senate to advocate for the opportunity to read legislation before we were required to vote on it, for example. Something that still hasn't unfortunately become the case.

I am a firm believer that we should be able to read things before we vote on them. So, I've been very vocal about the need for increased transparency, accountability and equity. And yes, that has been even when it's meant standing up to folks in leadership in my own party from time to time.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.