PENNDOT Audit shows frivolity

The audit questions $252,000 of $370,000 in expenditures it examined.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spent more than $500 on giant scissors for cutting ceremonial ribbon and $1,600 on 500 rubber ducks, according to a state audit that concludes the agency has done little to stop frivolous spending by employees.
The items were among numerous "improper and excessive" charges -- including food, gifts and clothing -- that made up two-thirds of PennDOT's credit card expenses in a one-year period, Pennsylvania Auditor General Robert P. Casey Jr. said Thursday.
Questionable charges
The preliminary audit sampled about $370,000 in credit-card purchases between June 2001 and June 2002 and found $252,000, or 68 percent, of charges were questionable. During this time, PennDOT racked up a total of $43 million in credit-card charges, Casey said.
Novelty items printed with PennDOT logos, food and clothes accounted for most of the questionable spending, Casey said.
The audit examined a period when Brad Mallory served as transportation secretary under former Republican Govs. Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker.
A phone number for Mallory could not be found. He did not leave a contact number and has no listing in the telephone directory, according to PennDOT officials.
Acting Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler called the audit "disturbing" and said he has directed a deputy secretary to review PennDOT's expense guidelines.
Biehler said he thought some of the items were part of an employee recognition program and doesn't think the problem is widespread. "I would have heard rumblings about it from somewhere else," he said.
Order given
Nevertheless, Biehler said he has ordered a stop to buying and giving away all the items listed in the audit, including promotional Frisbees, alarm clocks and key chains.
Casey urged the new administration to reform the state's entire credit card program, which costs $145 million a year. He estimated that Pennsylvania could save $3.6 million in taxpayer money by cutting wasteful spending across all state agencies and departments.
In the case of PennDOT, Casey blamed the agency's managers and administrators -- not the men and women who fixed the roads -- for buying 2,800 lunches, 1,000 breakfasts and 1,600 snacks.
"We're not talking about people on the road," Casey said. "We're talking about people sitting in their offices in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and other parts of the state and consuming the volume of food that you see."
The auditor general also criticize the state for failing to catch these abuses. Either PennDOT's comptroller's office or the state Budget Office should provide oversight, Casey said.

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