Government Fleet Top News

New Orleans Inspector General Reveals City Fleet Free-for-All

January 7, 2009

NEW ORLEANS - Inspector General Robert Cerasoli has fired the opening salvo in what’s likely to be a long and drawn out war over the use of city-owned vehicles, according to the New Orleans City Business.

In an interim report on the City’s vehicle fleet, Cerasoli noted that just within the executive branch, there were 273 take-home vehicles assigned to city employees as of June 30, 2008. A city ordinance limits the administrative branch to 60 take-home vehicles, meaning as many as 213 could be taken home illegally each day.

At first glimpse, the city vehicle policy appears little more than a keychain grab, with no rhyme or reason as to why some employees have access to automobiles. Those decisions, when they are made, take place among department heads and with no real oversight from administrators, according to Cerasoli’s assessment.

There is also no system that accounts for why some employees drive sedans and others SUVs. If there is a fiscal reason behind those decisions, it has eluded the inspector general. Equally troubling is that the inspector general found no system of accountability explaining how the vehicles are assigned and how the city ensures they are used solely for work-related purposes.

The preliminary review also revealed discrepancies in fuel use and monitoring. A city-owned pickup with an 18-gallon tank, for example, was fueled with 91.2 gallons in one day. Another showed an 18-gallon sedan tanked up with nearly 40 gallons. In neither of these instances did the chief administrative officer, who is required by city ordinance to establish a motor pool for city employees, challenge the fuel use reports.

A law approved in 1985 requires the chief administrative officer to file a quarterly report with the City Council on each take-home vehicle. The first mandated reports filed in 23 years were submitted a month ago, and only after Cerasoli brought the law to the attention of city administrators.

Cerasoli issued his interim report to Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Hatfield, saying he wanted “to offer the city this early opportunity to consider our observations, conclusions and recommendations” while his office continued to look at the remainder of the city’s vehicle fleet.

According to an e-mail from Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s spokeswoman Ceeon Quiett, there would be no response from Hatfield or the mayor’s office on Cerasoli’s findings until a final version is completed. That’s not expected for another few months.

Anyone in city government thinking the IG’s final report will contradict findings to date and ultimately vindicate the system in place is in an extreme state of denial. Cerasoli has just scratched the surface, and egregious waste has already been exposed.

The interim report provides an eye-opening glimpse of government at work, or not, to taxpayers and a wake-up call to city administrators and employees.

A more proactive approach to eliminating wasteful spending in city government is desperately needed, especially at a time when a record budget in excess of $1 billion is being considered with few guarantees on the source of that money.


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