South Carolina's embattled top accountant will step down next month after a $3.5 billion error in the year-end financial report he oversaw, according to a resignation letter written Thursday that was obtained by the AP. Republican Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom's decision to leave the post he's held for 20 years came after intense scrutiny of his performance following the blunder and amid rising calls for him to either quit or be removed. The Senate panel investigating the financial misstatement issued a damning report last week accusing Eckstrom of "willful neglect of duty." As recently as last week, Eckstrom had said he wouldn't resign. The governor accepted the resignation, effective April 30. The Senate report concluded that Eckstrom was solely responsible for the mapping error, which happened during the state's transition to a new internal information system from 2011 to 2017.
State officials testified that Eckstrom ignored auditors' yearslong warnings of a "material weakness" in his office and flawed cash reporting. Eckstrom has said the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report exaggerated the state's cash balances for a decade by double-counting the money sent to colleges and universities. The mistake went unsolved until a junior staffer fixed the error this fall. Officials have said the overstatement didn't affect the state budget, but lawmakers alarmed by Eckstrom's inconsistent testimony slammed his failure to fulfill one of his primary constitutional duties: to publish an accurate account of state finances. The Senate must now select a replacement to serve out the rest of Eckstrom's term, which ends in 2027.
Republican Sen. Larry Grooms, who led the investigation, said the next comptroller general should be someone who recognizes that their job is to spend the next three years overseeing the office's incorporation into other state agencies. He doesn't anticipate any other heads will roll. "The buck stopped with him," Grooms said. "The accountability was with him." A certified public accountant, Eckstrom, 74, spent four years as state treasurer before assuming his current office. He has run unopposed in the past two elections and last faced a Republican primary challenger in 2010. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster—who'd resisted calls for impeachment and endorsed elections as the proper vehicle for accountability—thanked Eckstrom for his 24 years of "dedicated service."
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