Inside Augusta

Former state auditor Matt Dunlap ‘not sure’ if he’ll pursue post again next year with new credentials

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Approximately five months after being forced to vacate the position of state auditor, Matt Dunlap has received internal auditor credentials.

Maine law requires anyone who holds the position of state auditor to be certified as a public accountant, internal auditor or information systems auditor. Individuals who lack these credentials have nine months from the date on which they take the oath of office to obtain them.

When Dunlap took the oath on January 4, 2021, he possessed none of those credentials but chose to pursue internal auditor credentials. On October 1, 2021, Dunlap was forced to vacate his position after narrowly failing to obtain the certification.

To obtain the credentials, an individual has to pass a series of three tests. Dunlap was able to pass the first test but missed passing the second and third tests by a couple of questions last September.

After becoming state auditor, Dunlap said his original plan was to take the first test for internal auditing in March 2021, the second in May 2021 and the third in July 2021. 

But Dunlap said the certification has “become a lot more sophisticated in the last 20 years, because back then you didn’t have the scandals at WorldCom and Enron, which changed the accounting world. And the technology has gotten so much more center stage than what we do in government.”

Dunalp passed the first exam in early August after having failed it once. The timeline was also made difficult by a limited number of testing dates being available due to the COVID-19 pandemic and by the Institute of Internal Auditors’ rule that a failed test cannot be taken again for 60 days.

“It was pretty brutal,” Dunlap said of the process. “When I got elected, I had this sort of strange sense of foreboding and I couldn’t really articulate it. Now I can. When you’re in a sailboat, you have choices. When you get into the hurricane, you don’t have choices anymore. You just have to keep your head into the wind and you don’t take a break.”

Dunlap added that coping with failing to obtain the credentials in nine months was “pretty consuming.”

“It was awful. I felt really bad, because now I’m out of a job. Then the Bangor Daily News did their editorial. They’ve had a fetish about legislative elections forever. It was like being set on fire. So, I thought, well, I’m going to double down and I need to prove to myself that I can do this,” Dunlap said. 

Dunlap rescheduled the exams and passed the third one, but then failed the second one again.

“At that point, I was thinking, should I just call it a day? There’s no sin in saying you can’t do something. And the people around me are like, you came so close. [It’s] just a couple of questions, and there’s no cost to taking it again.”

Dunlap was scheduled to take the final test on February 4, but a snow storm resulted in it being rescheduled until February 19. Dunlap waited a week and a half to receive the certificate to publicly say anything about finally receiving his internal auditing credentials.

“So now I can honestly say that, yeah, my timing was pretty bad, but at least I can do it,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap wrote an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News on March 3, in which he argued that his ability to persevere and obtain internal auditing credentials showed children they can accomplish anything they want.

Of his op-ed in the BDN, Dunlap said wanted to achieve two things.

“First of all, I wanted to thank the people that had really pushed me along. Because you can get really discouraged with this stuff,” he said.

Dunlap also wanted to use the op-ed to send a message to children about fighting through adversity.

“I also just wanted to respond a little bit to that editorial. A newspaper can write whatever they want to write, but when I read that thing and it said, ‘Matt Dunlap is no longer the state auditor. He should never have been the state auditor,’ and they went on about how electing someone completely unqualified is such a dumb idea. I thought, you know, we tell kids that they should strive to be whatever they want to be, and then I stumble and fall. And what [does the Bangor Daily News] do? They kick me in the head,” Dunlap said.

“I was angry about it and I let it go. But I thought, I don’t want to throw a punch at the Bangor Daily News, but I wanted to speak to that, that we try to encourage people and that should be more meaningful for kids than it was for me,” Dunlap added.

According to Dunlap, the response he’s received to his op-ed has been tremendous.

Now that Dunlap is a certified internal auditor, he’s not sure whether he will run to become state auditor during the 131st Legislature.

“I guess I could. I’m not really sure what’s going to happen yet,” said Dunlap, who is currently using his new credentials to work on town audits.

Dunlap added that receiving the certification is “an absolute, step-one baseline. I’m still learning a million things.”

But Dunlap also suggested a future legislature should consider making changes to Maine’s statutory requirements for the state auditor position.

“Looking ahead, we have the strictest requirement in the country by far. I think there’s like 23 states where the auditor has no certification requirements whatsoever because it’s an administrative post.”

“If somebody were to ask me if it should be changed, I’d say, I wouldn’t throw it out, but I would certainly make some modifications. First of all, nine months is categorically ridiculous. Part of that’s on me, because I had never taken so much as a bookkeeping class in high school. I had to learn everything from scratch, which gave me a tremendous handicap. I had a lot to learn and a little time to learn it. And the fact that I did it in less than fourteen months tells you it is doable, but nine months is probably too strict,” Dunlap said. 

Dunlap also noted that his experience doing technology upgrades while he served as Maine’s secretary of state gave him an advantage with that part of the certification.

Dunlap said he hasn’t thought enough about the law governing credentials for the state auditor to make specific suggestions, but did say he believed the types of qualifying certifications should be expanded.

“I think there are a lot of ways to make sure that your chief administrator actually understands what’s going on and what assurance you can give the public to that effect. I also think they ought to broaden the allowable certifications. We have a couple really skilled certified fraud examiners. Certified fraud examiner is not a certification that would qualify to be the state auditor, which is kind of weird if you think about it,” Dunlap added. 

Of his experience obtaining auditing credentials, Dunlap concluded, “The upshot of it is, it’s been an incredible journey. It’s been painful at times, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world because I’ve actually learned a lot about the trade. I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’ve learned a lot about the people around me and it’s all been very valuable.”

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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