Smaller state government is the mantra of Gov. Tom Corbett and conservative legislative majorities, but they may be trading size for accountability by forcing sweeping layoffs in the auditor general's office.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced this week that 67 of his employees will be laid off, statewide, beginning in June.

That level of reduced staffing inevitably will adversely affect the auditor general's office's ability to conduct audits of innumerable publicly funded agencies and enterprises that keep track of state money. And, it will diminish the office's ability to conduct performance audits that help to determine not just if public money is spent as intended, but whether agencies are competent and efficient.

Since the recession's first major impact on the state budget in 2008, the auditor general's budget has declined by about 21.5 percent, from $54 million to $42.4 million. Mr. Corbett has proposed keeping the budget flat this year, but that is, in effect, a reduction because it does not account for contracted rising costs.

That already has diminished the office's watchdog role. The office performed about 5,000 audits in 2008 but just 4,000 last year, and office spokesman Barry Ciccocioppo confirmed that new layoffs mean that the number of audits will continue to drop.

Those audits are not merely bureaucratic exercises. They include performance and special investigative audits like that of the Northeast Educational Intermediate Unit, which helped produce evidence that later led to the federal conviction of former NEIU Executive Director Fred Rosetti, Ed.D., for misusing public resources.

Smaller government is not always better government.

If the shrinking auditor general's office will lead to less accountability of all government, lawmakers should respond in favor of restoring that accountability.