The Office of State Auditor Tom Schweich says Missouri has too many planes and doesn’t track their use well enough.
The office has reviewed how Missouri used its 19 aircraft on business days during the two years that ended June 30, 2013. Those aircraft are maintained by the Highway Patrol, the Department of Transportation, or the Department of Conservation.
The auditor’s office says 19 is at least one plane too many. It found that only on 51 days out of those two years was the state’s passenger fleet used to capacity. On 459 days three or more of the six passenger planes sat idle, and all of them went unused on 69 days.
Auditors question commission usage
The report says during those two years the Departments of Conservation and Transportation spent about $376,000 to fly their respective commission members to commission meetings held throughout the state. State auditors estimate the state could have save $294,000 by paying commissioners mileage reimbursement instead, and could even have eliminated one pressurized passenger plane by eliminating those flights.
Further, the report says the state paid more than $183,000 for chartered flights even though on 67-percent of the days those were used, state-owned pressurized passenger planes were available. The auditor says interviews with Transportation Department and Conservation Department personnel indicated main reason flights were chartered was a lack of coordination with the Patrol and its inability to guarantee flight availability.
The Conservation Department says the Auditor’s findings could be “misleading” for not including days when flights could not occur due to bad weather or days when pilots could not fly due to federal restrictions. The auditor’s office responded saying the Patrol’s and Conservation Department’s flight operations staff said those were not significant factors in fleet usage.
The Conservation Department defends flights taken by commissioners, saying they are uncompensated volunteers and travel by flight enables them to engage with citizens throughout the state. It also says the auditor’s findings could be misleading because the flights in question are not exclusively for commissioners, but also include staff.
The Transportation Department says it will continue using state aircraft for highway commissioners, saying, “It would simply not be possible for many commissioners to serve on the commission and devote the time required without this transportation option to reduce travel time.”
Questions about documentation and authorization of passengers
Auditors say the Transportation Department allowed unauthorized passengers on state flights in violation of state policy, including commission members’ spouses and family members and former commissioners. It says the Highway Patrol, meanwhile, did not always document flights in enough detail to determine their purpose, or the identity of the passengers or their relationship to the Patrol.
The Transportation Department says it will better document when non Department or Highway Commission personnel are on the plane. The Patrol says the auditor’s office is wrong about its documentation of flight purposes. It says a “small number” of reports could have included a more detailed description of the flight purpose, but “did contain sufficient detail for responsible personnel to determine such and provide a verbal explanation to the examining auditor.
The auditor’s office says the Patrol isn’t charging enough for operating costs and to spread out the cost of the $5.6-million dollar plane the Patrol bought in December, 2012. Auditors estimate the Patrol could have billed an additional $191,500 to other agencies for the use of its aircraft, including $127,000 from the Governor’s Office. As a result, it says the Patrol is subsidizing the costs of flights for other agencies.
Whether to consolidate
The auditor’s report explores consolidating the state’s fleet to eliminate a “duplication of effort,” and to potentially eliminate some of the state’s planes. It says having multiple agencies providing flight services means having more planes and multiple agencies employing pilots and mechanics, providing hangar space, and using administrative staff to coordinate and schedule flights.
The Patrol told auditors such consolidation would require changes in the makeup of the state’s aircraft fleet. The current mix of various models and makers of aircraft could present issues for pilot training and would therefore create a safety concern.
The state auditors recommend the state perform a “comprehensive statewide analysis of state agency flight service needs and how to most efficiently provide those services to state agencies.” The state Office of Administration says it will “engage” state departments to that end, but the Patrol says it has no authority to perform such an analysis of aircraft owned by the Conservation and Transportation Departments.