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July 23, 2009

Who’s minding the gas pumps? Weitzman’s County vehicle audit finds little oversight of gas usage


A recent audit by Comptroller Howard Weitzman of Nassau County’s 1,500-vehicle fleet found that because of the County’s lax fuel monitoring system it is almost impossible to tell who pumps gas into County vehicles or what vehicles receive the fuel. The County procedures require that both be identified.

Some of the “unusual activity” found in the audit, covering the period January 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008, included:

-one driver pumping over 17,000 gallons of fuel over the course of a year;

- two different driver fuel cards used to dispense 388 gallons of fuel, even though the employees who had been issued the cards had retired years before;

 -11 instances where vehicle gas cards were used from vehicles that were no longer in the County’s fleet inventory;

 -30 instances where driver cards that had been invalidated by the County were used at the pumps;

 -a case where a maintenance card and a driver card were used three times within seven minutes to pump over 120 gallons of gas.

"With a County fleet of approximately 1,500 vehicles, 16 fueling locations and hundreds of employees permitted to use County gas pumps, we need to do better watching taxpayers’ dollars,” said Comptroller Weitzman.

The Comptroller initiated the audit in 2008 after fuel prices rose dramatically. It is estimated that the cost of fuel purchased by the County increased 135% between January 2007 and June 2008, when fuel costs spiked.

The County uses two different processes to account for fuel use. One is the automated “Gasboy” system, installed in 1987, that controls access to fuel at eight of the County’s 16 fueling sites. The other sites rely on manual procedures. Gasboy requires that the user have both a vehicle fuel card that identifies the vehicle and a driver fuel card. The manual process requires that a “fuel ticket” be completed by the driver, identifying the driver, the vehicle and amount of fuel pumped.

The audit focused on DPW’s Fleet Maintenance (DPWFM), and the Office of Management & Budget, Fleet Management (OMBFM), which are responsible for the purchase, maintenance, and inventory of many of the Nassau County fleet of vehicles. The audit scope did not include a review of the Police Department and Correctional Center fleet vehicles.

At the time of the audit, the County had a staff of 48 employees devoted to the management and maintenance of the fleet. The fleet consists of passenger vehicles, trucks, and heavy equipment.

During the audit, the Comptroller’s Office obtained a report identifying any driver who had pumped in excess of 2,000 gallons of fuel during 2007. Twenty-five drivers made the list, including the one driver mentioned previously, who had pumped over 17,000 gallons of fuel. A follow up by auditors found that, in most cases, these drivers were assigned to fuel multiple vehicles. The employee’s card listed in the report as having pumped over 17,000 gallons was assigned to the Correctional Center Transportation Unit. The Correctional Center stated that the one driver card is used by more than one person in the Transportation Unit for fueling the buses and inmate vans.

Auditors also found a lack of written policy and procedures when it came to issuing the fuel cards, accounting for issued cards, the return of surplus cards and the handling and replacement of lost or misplaced cards. Misplaced or lost cards were re-issued with the same numbers, a practice which could result in multiple cards with the same identification number being actively used by different people.

The audit also took a look at some of the 233 County drivers of “take-home” vehicles. A sampling of 26 of these employees found that none of them had a written job description that required them to have a take-home car. This lack of job description  violates County policy.

Auditors examined the cost effectiveness of giving an employee a take home car versus reimbursing that employee for the cost of driving their own personal vehicle on County business. Auditors examined 15 cases and found that in 12 of the cases, the cost of providing the take home vehicle was greater than the cost of reimbursing the employee for business mileage.

According to the audit, four take-home County cars are assigned to people who are not on the County payroll and include three New York State Court system judges and the Commissioner of Jurors, who is another state employee.

The audit also noted that documentation was often missing or incomplete when vehicles went in for repair following accidents, and that vehicle parts and supplies were not secured or accounted for. Auditors recommended that all parts and supplies be located in a secure storage area with locks and possibly cameras to monitor access.

 “The County has to be more prudent and tighten controls when it comes to all aspects of the County vehicle fleet,” said Weitzman. “No one should tolerate the possibility of wasted tax dollars, especially in these tough economic times.”

DPW Fleet management is in the process of implementing a new automated real-time fueling system, which will upgrade all fueling stations and provide for communications equipment for each vehicle, allowing the system to wirelessly limit fuel to authorized vehicles, identify the vehicle being fueled and record the vehicle’s odometer reading.

"This new system should go a long way in correcting many of the shortfalls of the old fueling system,” Weitzman said.

In June the Comptroller released an audit on Nassau Community College’s fleet vehicles, which is managed independently of the rest of the County’s fleet.

PDF File Limited Review of the Nassau County Vehicle Fleet Management