In an effort to help voters make an informed decision this Nov 3., the Capital-Star conducted Q&A’s with three of the four candidates for the Office of the Auditor General, a statewide position currently held by Eugene DePasquale.
We conclude the profiles today with Democratic nominee Nina Ahmad, a scientist, former Philadelphia deputy mayor, and 2018 primary candidate for lieutenant governor.
What is the role of the auditor general?
Ahmad: Put simply, the Auditor General of Pennsylvania is the independent fiscal watchdog for the commonwealth. The auditor general’s job is to make sure our tax dollars are used with integrity, accountability, and transparency.
The mission of the entire Office of the Auditor General is to serve the people of Pennsylvania by ensuring the effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars and resources by conducting audits and providing oversight of the state’s government.
Furthermore, I believe it is the duty of the auditor general to execute her responsibilities without preference or partisanship. My background is in science and, accordingly, I trust data and facts. I will hold politicians, individuals, and agencies accountable regardless of party.
What are your top three priorities to address as auditor general?
No matter how much we think we understand the impact of COVID-19 on our state, I still don’t think we appreciate the ways in which it has fundamentally altered the way we do things.
That’s especially true when it comes to our health care system. I believe our state should be looking at how it is using its resources to expand access to healthcare, eliminate barriers (especially for women and working families), and use science and data to drive decision-making.
In this environment, Pennsylvanians deserve to know that every state tax dollar spent on health care is delivering the maximum impact. I will use the office to design a comprehensive healthcare performance audit to support plans for local or Medicare/Medicaid spending directed at seniors, families, workers, and communities in need. This audit will expose the gimmicks and hidden profits that insurers and private companies make on the backs of Pennsylvania workers, as the state’s multi-billion drug expenses explode.
I believe that Pennsylvania must transition to an environmentally sustainable economy.
As the auditor general, I will evaluate current state investments in environmental policies and recommend scientific and economically feasible actions to transition to non-polluting energy sources and methodologies. Climate change is a challenge which also presents an opportunity if there is a strategic plan to act and invest now.
Inaction on climate change will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Threats to public health and safety from extreme heat and flooding, concerns about severe weather impacts on aging power, water, sewer and transportation systems, and the impact of altered ecosystems on rural communities, farming, forestry and tourism all have negative economic impact.
The Office of the Auditor General can play a proactive role in ensuring that our state’s resources are being used in a way that helps to mitigate the negative impact of climate change.
Schools must have access to adequate financial resources in order to deliver the quality education our children need and deserve.
As auditor general I will audit every state investment in education and develop data-driven analyses that identify funding gaps. I will also vigorously advocate for equitable funding, universal pre-K, and affordable post-secondary education.
What unique qualities/skills would you bring to the job?
Ahmad: I bring a broad set of experiences and qualifications with a track record of leadership that make me uniquely prepared for the Office of Auditor General.
Being a survivor of the brutal war of independence of my native country of Bangladesh, I’m keenly aware how much effort and sacrifice it takes to make your voice heard. I came to the United States to escape the post war chaos and saw what real opportunity meant. However, I quickly understood not all communities were able to access those opportunities.
I put myself through college, attending the University of Pennsylvania, where I earned my PhD in chemistry, and then a biomedical fellowship following that. The lessons I learned as a chemist and a biomedical fellow I have taken with me throughout my career.
I served as a deputy mayor in Philadelphia, establishing the first Department of Public Engagement in the city. As a part owner of a small business I know the pain of stretching your dollar to pay your bills, of finding efficiencies to make ends meet, and of operating in a finance and audit environment.
Serving President Barack Obama on his Commission for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, I understood the importance of representation in the crafting of public policy that is inclusive. And as an advocate for women and marginalized communities while serving as the Philadelphia chapter president of the National Organization for Women and now serving on the national board, I am deeply aware of the need for leveling the playing field.
Why do you want to be auditor general?
Ahmad: Having come to the United States at a young age, leaving behind the chaos of a country recovering from a war for independence, I have always felt that my calling is to work towards a greater good, and to put the interests of the people ahead of the powerful.
I’m running for auditor general to use the power of the office to create more transparency and efficiency in our state government and to make sure people feel like our government is working for them, not just the elites and the insiders.
The power of the Office of the Auditor General lies in its ability to Investigate and audit to hold powerful people and organizations accountable. I will never forget that I work for the people of Pennsylvania, and I will lead with independence and integrity.
As a trained scientist and community activist, I understand how to use a data-driven approach to solve problems and improve programs while remembering that each data point is someone’s story. Pennsylvanians can count on me to gather the facts necessary to hold government agencies accountable and to guide policymakers as they make crucial decisions about how to allocate funds in a fiscally prudent way.