The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 7, 2014

What a mess

— Imagine you want to build a dream home. You have a plan, but it’s drawn on an old napkin and parts of it are smudged and there is a tear.

You made supply lists, but they are scattered hither and yon. You have the one that tells you how much lumber you need to build the house, but not the one that tells you how many shingles you will need.

A similar scenario is just about what was found when a legislative audit was conducted on the state Department of Agriculture. The audit was requested by Commissioner Walt Helmick when he took office last January.

The findings — a rural rehabilitation loan program that is in shambles — were discussed Monday at a legislative interims audit committee meeting.

According to auditor Aaron Allred, 25 of 40 outstanding loans are delinquent. In nearly half the loans audited, there was no evidence of any effort to collect on delinquent loans. A number of loans lacked sufficient collateral.

Auditors could not find any formal policies or procedures for awarding loans, or requirements that loan recipients have a good credit history or proof that they could repay the loans. Many of the loans had nothing to do with agriculture.

“We’ve got some kind of a rogue loan program without any sort of rules, regulations or oversight,” Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said during the meeting.

Is that any way to run a loan program?

Short answer — no.

We first must applaud Commissioner Helmick for initiating the audit. He told legislators he had heard only rumors about the loan program, but that he had better take a look at it.

Thank the stars that he did. The audit’s findings have been turned over to the U.S. Attorney for investigation.

Such a lackadaisical attitude toward a multi-million dollar program goes beyond ridiculous. We also give Helmick credit for putting it — a program that appears to have potential for greater good — on hiatus until questions are answered.

We aren’t pointing fingers at anyone specifically, but it seems incomprehensible to us that such goings-on went unnoticed — or were ignored — for decades.

Whether criminal intent is found or not, we can only hope that no other surprises await at the outcome of the investigation.