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Auditor General Jack Wagner Calls for Greater Control of State's Administration of its 16,637 Vehicles
Faults Department of General Services for failure of leadership, oversight
HARRISBURG, Pa., Jan. 23, 2009 – Auditor General Jack Wagner today said the Department of General Services must exert greater control over its management of the state’s fleet of 16,637 vehicles, after issuing a report that faulted the agency for weak leadership, incomplete record-keeping and little accountability in how cars were being assigned and maintained.
Although DGS said that it had centralized management of the vehicle fleet, effective Jan. 5, Wagner said it was a step that should have occurred long ago.
“With the commonwealth facing a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, DGS must seize the wheel and take control of Pennsylvania’s vehicle fleet, to save taxpayer dollars and to ensure the public that the privilege of operating a state vehicle is not being abused,” Wagner said.
Wagner said that reforms must address three main deficiencies: program decentralization, lack of proper documentation, and lack of transparency. He recommended eight steps that DGS should take to improve leadership and accountability. He said DGS should:
Wagner initiated a special performance audit of the state’s vehicle fleet last June; however, auditors’ inability to obtain sufficient documentation from DGS prevented completion of the audit. As a result, Wagner issued a special report detailing auditors’ findings.
Auditors determined that, as of Oct. 31, 2008, 16,637 vehicles were operated by 51 state agencies, boards and commissions. (An inventory of those vehicles is available to the public at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.) Based on General Services’ estimated annual cost of $4,359 for acquisition, maintenance, fuel and insurance per vehicle, the state’s total cost would be about $72.5 million a year.
State law authorizes DGS to purchase and supervise all state vehicles, but it failed to exert administrative control during the period examined by auditors, Wagner said. General Services’ decentralized management philosophy of permitting each agency, board and commission to set its own policy of which employees received cars and maintaining records led to different guidelines on assignment of vehicles, shoddy record-keeping, inadequate maintenance, unauthorized repairs and failure to fulfill General Services’ request for information.
Decentralization also meant that DGS could not provide up-to-date answers to the most basic questions from taxpayers: Who drives state-owned cars? Are state cars allocated properly?
The net effect of these deficiencies was General Services’ inability to ensure the responsible use of taxpayer dollars; repairs and higher maintenance costs due to driver abuse or neglect; and an overall absence of accountability and transparency, Wagner said.
“Without strong leadership in the way state vehicles are managed, and without verifiable data, the commonwealth was not accountable to the citizens whose taxes pay for the operation and maintenance of the state fleet,” Wagner said.
Auditors had expected to obtain and audit expense records for state vehicles, but were told that DGS could provide little more than a list of 16,000-plus vehicles that included their make, model and license plate number. DGS could not provide valid, reliable data such as odometer readings for all cars, and names and job titles for all state employees with permanently assigned vehicles.
“Without accurate and complete information, DGS and state agencies that use state-owned vehicles are not accountable to citizens who are footing the bills for the purchase and maintenance of vehicles,” Wagner said.
Contributing to the lack of transparency, the DGS Web site contains no instructions on how taxpayers can report suspicions of abuse of state-owned vehicles, Wagner said.
Auditor General Jack Wagner is responsible for ensuring that all state money is spent legally and properly. He is the commonwealth’s elected independent fiscal watchdog, conducting financial audits, performance audits, and special investigations. The Department of the Auditor General conducts approximately 5,000 audits per year.
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