Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is releasing an analysis of count-owned vehicles that she said reveals a number of issues including misuse, fraud, lack of oversight and major gaps in usage data.
In a summary of the audit, released Tuesday, Wagner said it took about a month for the county to give her office the number of vehicles in the fleet. She said that needs to be fixed.
“Every county vehicle should have an accurate and up-to-date log with every single trip recorded,” Wagner said. “The managers within the county should be reviewing those logs at a minimum on a monthly basis.”
The county fleet has about 700 vehicles, and for most of them, Wagner said accurate logs of usage and mileage don’t exist. In addition to improving logs, Wagner’s office recommended that all county-owned vehicle licenses and titles be kept in the controller’s office.
Other findings include lax oversight involving county fuel cards: in some cases cards are still assigned to employees who have been terminated; a lack of oversight involving county fuel tanks that could lead to theft; and out-of-date IRS and payroll information which has, among other things, led to the county losing out on tax revenue it was exempt from paying. Overall, she said the losses from all areas of concern are at least $250,000 for the county, but she said the losses are likely much higher.
“Because there is such poor tracking in this area, the record keeping and the checks and balances are so poor, the individual instances of fraud and abuse are limited to the most extreme examples,” Wagner said.
The controller cited an earlier report that County Executive Rich Fitzgerald misused his county-owned vehicle. As a result, he turned in the vehicle and wrote a check to the county for $42,737. In addition, an employee for the maintenance provider for county vehicles was charged with theft for fraudulent use of a county gas card.
The audit is recommending the county seek reimbursement for the taxes paid and mileage that employees with take home cars have put on the vehicles that isn’t covered, as well as upgrade technology for oversight of county fuel tanks and establish better processes to track and maintain vehicles.
The Allegheny County Executive’s office will received the audit by the end of the week. Wagner defended releasing the information to the public before county officials.
“I believe that it’s in the interest of the taxpayers to basically memorialize and make these finding public as soon as possible to prevent any under calculation that could go on or, frankly, any delays that could go on in any other area,” Wagner said.
The information released includes highlights of the full audit, which will be released to the public after being received by the county executive’s office. County Executive Fitzgerald, earlier Tuesday, had no comment, aside from saying he still needed to take a look at the summary.
Jennifer Liptak, Fitzgerald's chief of staff, issued the following statement:
“It’s refreshing to see the Controller perform procedures that finally look at the $1.7 billion in county finances, which this administration has been asking for over the past three years. Done correctly, with no underlying agenda, this was something that had great potential to improve government operations, provide taxpayer savings and make operations more efficient and effective. It’s disappointing that the Controller’s press conference today attempted to minimize the work that Public Works and the County Manager have done. Ultimately, the administration’s goal is to improve processes and safeguard county assets, while also protecting taxpayers from potential misuse of county resources.
Once the Department of Public Works is given the courtesy of being provided the draft audit, an exit conference and the opportunity to respond (as Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS) provide), a more detailed response will be given. That response will make it clear that the work that has been done by Public Works and the County Manager, irrespective of the review by the Controller, goes much further to strengthen controls and make improvements that benefit taxpayers than this press release suggests.”
Once received, the county executive’s office will have two weeks to respond to Wagner’s audit. She said there has not been cooperation between the two departments, so there could be a delay.
“It is my hope that in six months we can see drastic improvement,” Wagner said, “and even show greater savings beyond the $250,000 we can identify specifically and get back for the county.”
In addition, Wagner announced her office will conduct a full audit of the county’s maintenance contract with First Vehicle Services. The city of Pittsburgh also has a contract with them, and Wagner said she would talk to city Controller Michael Lamb to see if he is interested in pursuing an audit.