- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department assured lawmakers Wednesday that corrective actions are being taken after a recent audit uncovered dozens of discrepancies with the agency’s practices, including misuse of public money and missing firearms from a volunteer hunter safety program.

“Honestly, we were all disappointed that we did so poorly in this audit, and everybody feels accountable for this,” director Terry Steinwand told the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee. “So there’s been a real buy-in from staff that we’re going to do better.”

The state audit released last month criticized the agency’s misuse of public money and its “noncompliance with laws, rules and policies” - among them improperly paid employees and more than 100 missing guns from a volunteer hunter education program.

State auditor’s office spokesman Jason Wahl it was the North Dakota Game and Fish’s first audit ever, and covered only recent activity by the agency. Wahl acknowledged problems may have been occurring for years.

“You have to draw conclusions that some of these have been going on for an extended period,” Wahl said.

Game and Fish regulates hunting, fishing and trapping, as well as manages land and promotes conservation. The agency is supported by state licensing fees and federal tax money from the sale of firearms, ammunition and other sporting equipment.

Steinwand said the audit was “a very valuable experience” and agency supervisors have undergone training to ensure department policies and procedures are followed.

The audit said the agency also wasn’t complying with procurement requirements and “used no formal bidding process or an appropriate alternative procurement process for services exceeding $25,000.” The agency also was criticized for not safeguarding sensitive personal information, including Social Security numbers, and that some employees dealing with such information did not undergo the required background checks, the audit said.

Other problems uncovered by the audit included providing improper funding to a group and paying a person money for hunting access on land that he didn’t own.

In all, the audit made 44 recommendations that needed addressed.

Steinwand said about 80 percent of the problems found in the audit have been “completed or substantially completed at this point.”

Still unresolved, however, are missing guns from the state’s volunteer hunter education program. The agency has contacted more than 1,500 current and former firearm instructors, gun dealers and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to find those guns, Steinwand said.

More than 700 of the agency’s guns have been catalogued, and 18 remain missing, he said.

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