HARRISBURG, PA - Gov. Ed G. Rendell's administration is doing a poor job of tracking which of its employees are assigned state vehicles and why, and whether those vehicles are being used and maintained properly, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Those findings were contained in a recent report issued by Auditor General Jack Wagner's office. The audit faults the Department of General Services, responsible for managing the state's fleet of 16,000-plus cars, for "weak leadership, incomplete record-keeping, and little accountability in how cars are being assigned."

"With the commonwealth facing a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, the Department of General Services must seize the wheel and take control of Pennsylvania's vehicle fleet to save taxpayer dollars and ensure the public that the privilege of operating a state vehicle is not being abused," the report states.

The total cost of acquiring, maintaining, insuring and fueling the state's fleet is $72.5 million a year, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A big part of the problem, according to the audit, is that until recently, the department had a "decentralized" approach to managing its fleet: It allowed agencies, commissions and boards to set their own policies on which employees received cars and how they were expected to maintain them.

The result, according to the audit, was that the department could not provide complete and up-to-date records to answer basic questions, including which employees drove state-owned cars, what their job titles were, and how many miles they drove.

In a recent interview, Department of General Services Secretary James P. Creedon said few of the audit's findings came as a surprise.

He said the administration inherited the decentralized system that Wagner's audit describes, and that he and others had been working for several years to revamp it.

Creedon also said his department has made many of the recommended changes, including consolidating staffing and procurement. 

Beyond that, the secretary said, the department has worked on downsizing the state's fleet, reducing gas consumption, and increasing the number of hybrid vehicles.

"It's going to take some time for all these changes to kick in, but you will see the results," Creedon said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) called Wagner's audit "jaw-dropping" and said it indicated that General Services "was unable to ensure the responsible use of taxpayer money."

Scarnati's caucus is pushing a package of bills, including one that would place more restrictions on the use of state cars. Wagner's office recommended that the department develop a form that every agency must complete for anyone requesting permanent assignment of a state vehicle. That form should contain the employee's name, job title, and purpose for requesting the vehicle.

Wagner's office is also recommending that the department approve any permanent assignment of a car to a state employee and develop a toll-free number, as well as a form on its Web site that would allow citizens to report suspected abuse of a state vehicle.