State audits provide service to Missourians

Monday, November 5, 2001

Missouri State Auditor Claire McCaskill last month raised a couple of legitimate issues concerning spending by two state agencies.

An audit of the Missouri State Water Patrol raised concerns about the agency's having too many boats and vehicles.

And an audit of the Missouri Department of Transportation questioned annual "Roadeo" contests in which state road workers test their skills on big machinery.

The water patrol audit found that the agency, which has 124 employees, including only 84 officers, maintains 185 boats that cost the state $2 million.

It also showed that two of those boats, each of which cost $33,000 when they were purchased in July 2000, hadn't been used as of June.

Of the patrol's 133 vehicles, only eight were driven more than 15,000 miles while another 50 had less than 10,000 miles, and 17 of those were driven less than 5,000 miles.

The audit found six instances where one officer was assigned two vehicles and three boats and one instance where an officer was assigned four vehicles.

Vehicles were also assigned to patrol members who primarily performed administrative tasks.

The highway department's "Roadeo" contests feature workers driving loaders and snowplows through a series of cones with scores based on time and safety.

Other competitions include pretrip inspections of their vehicles and a backhoe event in which they scoop up a bowling ball and place it on a large tree.

The competitions are held on state time and include meals, awards and jackets, and T-shirts or hats for participants. Because the actual contest takes less than 30 minutes for each participant, most of the time is spent waiting and watching others compete.

The cost of the contests to taxpayers in 1999 and 2000 was $870,000. The state competition was canceled this year because of a tight budget, but some of the 10 department districts already had held their local competitions.

It will be difficult for the water patrol to justify why it needs so many boats and vehicles for so few employees. If the agency isn't tracking use of the equipment, it should.

The highway department says its "Roadeo" contests are used as a training tool, and if the money weren't spent for the "Roadeo" it would be used for other types of training. Considering the cost and how little time workers are actually in training during these contests, the department's training dollars could be better spent.

McCaskill has performed a service to taxpayers by bringing these expenditures to light in a tight budget year.

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