South Carolina’s Accountant Tenders Resignation After $3.5 Billion Financial Error

Comptroller-General Richard Eckstrom of South Carolina has chosen to resign as the topmost government accountant after a $3.5 billion financial misstatement was discovered. Eckstrom who promoted the book “Accounting for Dummies” in 2009 fixed his resignation for April 30 in a letter to Governor Henry McMaster.

Eckstrom is the topmost accountant in South Carolina for 24 years, and his tenure is to end in 2027. With his resignation, another top accountant will be elected to serve out his remaining years before proceeding on the required term. A Senate panel headed by Senator Larry Grooms accused the 74-year-old certified public accountant of “willful neglect of duty” for the erroneous financial error.

“The buck stopped with him,” Sen. Grooms said. “The accountability was with him.”

Lawmakers made it clear that the $3.5 billion mistake did not affect the budget of South Carolina, but the error had gone unnoticed for almost 10 years until a junior staff detected and fixed it last year. Investigators said the misstatement was a result of double-counting the funds sent to universities and colleges – and this error grossly inflated the state’s cash balances for an entire decade.

Grooms and other lawmakers thought Eckstrom was negligent and should resign or be fired. The topmost accountant had earlier refused to resign, but when the Senate elected to vote on removing him on April 11, he reconsidered and tendered his resignation to Gov. McMaster on Thursday. He said he remains committed to the financial prosperity of the people of South Carolina in his letter.

“I have never taken service to the state I love or the jobs to which I have been elected lightly, endeavoring to work with my colleagues…to be a strong defender of the taxpayer and a good steward of their hard-earned tax dollars,” Eckstrom wrote. “They deserve nothing less.”

McMaster accepted Eckstrom’s resignation, effective April 30, and thanked him for being a great family friend and a diligent servant of the state. “The Eckstrom and McMaster families have been dear friends for decades,” McMaster stated in accepting the resignation. “I know that your every wish has been, and always will be, prosperity and happiness for the people of South Carolina.”

The Senate investigating panel said Eckstrom’s error occurred when South Carolina moved to a new internal information system from 2011-2017. State officials and some colleagues said the elderly accountant failed to plug the lapses in the way his office reported finances, and that he ignored corrections when given.

Grooms said the office of the comptroller-general may have to be scrapped, and other agencies take over its functions.