Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Missouri's new airplane not justified, audit says

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri State Highway Patrol did not conduct a formal written analysis to justify its decision to buy a $5.6 million airplane in December, according to an audit released today

The audit also questions whether the 2012 model Beechcraft King Air 250 frequently used by Gov. Jay Nixon was a necessary addition to the state air fleet, which the audit claims was already "underutilized. 

The new state plane was a frequent point of discussion during this year’s legislative session, and the auditor's report is sure to give more fuel to the political fire surrounding it. Republican legislators have frequently criticized Democrat Nixon over the purchase, which they only became aware of after-the-fact. 

Officials in the Department of Public Safety and the Highway Patrol have routinely defended the buy, as has Nixon.  

Comments from DPS explaining the decision to buy a new plane are also in the state auditor's report. 

“After careful consideration of all aspects, and evaluating the costs and benefits involved with each, the patrol concluded that the purchase of this airplane would provide the best investment. This airplane is expected to serve Missouri for the next 20+ years,” the department’s response states.

The purchase was legal and within the Highway Patrol’s authority, using an equipment purchasing fund.

But Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican, said DPS had an obligation to do a more thorough review of whether or not the purchase was the best decision for the state.

“You’re talking about $5.6 million of taxpayer money in tough budget times,” he said. “Just on the face of the data, why would you need a new plane?”

His audit of the Department of Public Safety, which includes the Highway Patrol, found that, before the purchase, the state had five passenger airplanes – the oldest a three-passenger 1981 model Cessna Centurion and the newest a six-passenger 1999 King Air C90.

According to the audit, there was no day in 2012 when all of the planes were in use, and there were 113 days when none of the planes flew.

“There was a plane available every single day,” Schweich said.

Based on the analysis, the auditor’s office concluded that the airplanes were “underutilized even before the purchase of an additional airplane.”

Overall, Public Safety received a “fair” rating in its audit – one step above “poor” in the auditor’s four-tier rating system. Because of that rating, Schweich said his office will do a follow-up review in 90 days.

Other issues raised in the audit include the handling of seized cash from old cases and oversight of school bus inspections. The department’s response indicates that efforts are already in the works to address those concerns.


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