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Audit finds fault with car usage by MassDOT

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation owns more cars than it needs, and those vehicles it owns are often used inappropriately by employees, according to an audit published by the state Office of the Inspector General this week.

According to the report, some of the agency’s vehicles are used by employees for day-to-day commuting — in many cases, a violation of law — and some staffers who have been assigned take-home vehicles in case of off-duty emergencies do not regularly respond to emergencies.

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About 180 state-owned vehicles lacked valid safety and emissions inspection stickers, auditors found. Dozens had commercial or private license plates rather than official state license plates — a practice that increases the risk that vehicles can be used for nonbusiness purposes, the report said.

“MassDOT needs to significantly improve the management of its light-duty vehicle fleet,” auditors concluded in the report. “It needs to actively oversee its fleet, including its purchase, assignment, and use of light-duty vehicles.”

The inspector general’s office suggested that the agency owns too many cars, because some sit idle, and that cars purchased ostensibly for State Police use are instead being used by MassDOT employees.

The report also alleges that MassDOT spent $3.4 million in federal funds to buy alternative fuel vehicles but failed to retire more than 100 Ford Crown Victoria sedans that the agency promised the Federal Highway Administration would be taken off the road.

In a response, MassDOT spokesman Mike Verseckes acknowledged that many of the problems outlined by the Internal Special Audit Unit needed fixing. The agency will soon adopt a vehicle-use policy that will help address some of those issues and will more closely mirror regulations from the state’s Office of Vehicle Management.

The agency also plans to implement a new software program that would better track the vehicles, the amount of time they are used, and the employees authorized to use them.

“MassDOT has either remedied or taken steps to remedy the findings in the report,” Verseckes said. “MassDOT welcomes the audit process as a way to continue to look internally to identify practices that can be improved or reforms to be made that could achieve cost savings or efficiencies.”

But not all the audit’s assertions were valid, MassDOT contended. In some cases, Verseckes said, vehicles were outfitted with private or commercial license plates because the cars needed to be unobtrusive for security purposes. But most cars are not involved in sensitive situations, he acknowledged, and those vehicles will soon receive official state license plates.

“While it was determined no abuse of vehicles with commercial plates took place,” Verseckes said, “in order to enhance transparency, the agency feels that official state plates will deter a prospective user from misusing any fleet vehicles in the future.”

Verseckes said that MassDOT officials had identified 139 vehicles missing their inspection stickers; all of those vehicles would be reinspected and given stickers by the end of the week, he said.

The agency disputed the audit’s allegations that too many employees were allowed to take state vehicles home. Of the 361 vehicles authorized to go home with an employee, Verseckes said, 220 are authorized only between Dec. 1 and May 31 so that employees can reach work in case of snow or ice.

“We have reviewed the functions for the remaining employees and believe that domiciled vehicles are necessary for the performance of their jobs,” Verseckes said.

Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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