Audit Finds Potential Abuse With State Gas Cards

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – There is too little control over the use of state fuel credit cards, according to an audit that uncovered potential for abuse and is prompting further investigation by state officials, lawmakers were told Wednesday.

The Legislative Audit Division reported that its analysis found several suspicious situations. In some cases, cards were used to buy more gasoline in one stop than the assigned state vehicle could hold — leaving auditors to question where the extra went. Cards also were used to fill personal vehicles in some cases even though the state usually reimburses on a mileage basis for use of personal cars.

Diesel fuel was purchased in some cases even though the Montana State Motor Pool does not have any diesel vehicles.

“We need to hold people accountable for purchases that are not for a state vehicle,” said Rep. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse. “All of these people should be called in the office and asked, ‘What gives here?’

“They are a small percentage, but we need to weed them out because Montanans expect the best from state government.”

The Department of Transportation said it would be examining dozens of individual situations, particularly cases where a card was used to purchase more gasoline than the assigned state vehicle could hold.

Director Jim Lynch said he was withholding judgment, saying it was possible that the diesel purchases were to fill tanks for heavy equipment on a nearby job site.

“To assume that every diesel purchase is inappropriate, we can’t make that leap,” Lynch said.

The Department of Administration said it was going to follow audit recommendations to come up with a statewide policy that closes potential areas of abuse, or at least creates better monitoring systems to catch it.

“My department takes these audits very seriously. We realize the failure to have a statewide policy resulted in some of these issues,” agency director Janet Kelly said.

Auditors found about 8,400 fuel cards in use, and pointed out cards should be assigned to each vehicle rather than to individual employees.

Employees were sometimes wasting money by buying premium fuel for state vehicles that run on regular. And the auditors said some state fuel tanks in remote areas are unlocked and could be used by anyone with little control.

Auditors even found a case where a fuel card was used by someone who no longer works for state government.

“When I read the audit, I said, ‘Wow, I can’t believe some of this stuff is going on,'” said Sen. Mitch Tropila, D-Great Falls. “It just seems to me, that as I read through this, this is a lot of money.”