HARRISBURG - Lots of political candidates talk about finding waste in government. One race on the November ballot is for a statewide post charged with actually doing that.

The post is Pennsylvania auditor general, and the race this year is about experience.

Incumbent Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat and former state representative, says he has been "a tough, fair and independent watchdog" for taxpayers in the last four years.

Challenger John Brown, a Republican and executive of Northampton County, says his own business and local government experience makes him a better fit for the job.

Since DePasquale became auditor general, the office says it has identified $319.15 million in misspent or recoverable state funds. Its recent audits have highlighted such attention-grabbing topics as the number of untested rape kits held by law enforcement agencies and the thousands of unanswered calls to the state's child abuse hotline.

"I'm proud of the work I've done as auditor general," DePasquale says.

Brown, 55, says his business career in turnaround and start-up positions and then as a mayor of Bangor and county executive better prepares him for the job than DePasquale's law degree and tenure in Harrisburg.

The last company Brown worked for, he said, was New Jersey-based global chemical manufacturer International Specialty Products. Once he became mayor, he started a consulting practice.

Brown said he would bring to the auditor general's post experience confronting issues of cash flow, personnel and daily problem-solving.

"It's a financial executive role - and I just think Gene's background in some ways basically handicaps him," he said. "His lack of direct business experience handicaps his ability to leverage the role of the office."

In Northampton County, Brown said, he has contained health-care costs through plan changes, and improved the finances of the county nursing home, through actions such as enacting a policy to reduce worker absenteeism.

The race is far from the most high-profile contest on the ballot, but the winner of the $157,598 position can have an impact on state government.

With a staff of 469 employees, the Auditor General's Office examines the finances and performance of state agencies, school districts, municipal pension plans and more. The job was created in 1809 and became an elected position in 1850.

"The people of Pennsylvania were very intelligent, years ago, to make sure that they had an independent elected position to make sure that taxpayer dollars - their taxpayer dollars - were properly spent," said Jack Wagner, who held the post from 2005 through 2012.

But its authority goes only so far. Wagner noted that the governor and legislature do not always correct problems identified by the auditor general.

Asking the voters to retain him, DePasquale, 45, of West Manchester Township in York County, cites as his most significant accomplishment his work on the state's child-abuse hotline. After new laws expanded the number of people required to report abuse, he put a spotlight on the hotline's inability to handle the increased load - more than one in five calls, or nearly 42,000, were unanswered in 2015.

The Department of Human Services later said it had added employees, improved technology and training and said it drastically reduced the number of unanswered calls.

DePasquale also touts his audit that found confusing information from state agencies may have contributed to an incomplete reporting of a backlog of testing rape kits. If reelected, DePasquale said, he would work with the legislature and governor to get the approximately $5 million to test such kits.

DePasquale said he would also advocate changes to the charter school law, which he has criticized for enabling a lack of transparency and scrutiny over the operation of the fast-growing segment of privately managed but publicly funded schools.

He holds a large money advantage over Brown, outspending him by a nearly 4-1 ratio this spring and summer, according to campaign finance reports, and holding $461,816 for the final stretch, compared to Brown's $8,641.

Voters also have two minor-party candidates to consider.

The Green Party candidate is John Sweeney, 63, a small businessman and auditor of Falls Township, Wyoming County.

Sweeney says that as auditor general he would recommend combining the Department of Transportation and the Turnpike Commission to eliminate duplication and would also examine the Department of Environmental Protection.

Libertarian Roy Minet, 75, of East Donegal Township in Lancaster County, is a retired businessman who says that, if elected, he might consider seeking court approval to audit the General Assembly. "I would use the office of auditor general to not only do the things that are normally thought of as the auditor general's responsibility," Minet said, "but I would also go looking for things that we could save money on by just not doing them at all."

klangley@post-gazette.com

717-787-2141

@karen_langley