3 On Your Side Investigates: Fleet Mismanagement - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

3 On Your Side Investigates: Fleet Mismanagement

JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

A recent PEER report shows inaccurate information for thousands of state vehicles, but that report doesn't tell the whole story. 

It pointed a finger at dozens of state agencies, but didn't identify which ones had the most problems.

In a few agencies, every one of their vehicles had information that was missing, information that's essential to making sure your tax dollars are properly spent.

How often do you get your vehicle serviced?

If you're the Department of Public Safety, you don't, according to information we obtained from a recent PEER report.

None of DPS' 936 vehicles listed any preventive maintenance at all.

So if they did get that oil change, there wasn't a record of it.

For Capitol Body Shop service manager Pat Hall, that means one thing.

"Large expenses. Large repairs, later down the road, or if they haven't started already," Hall said. "Things that could have been prevented, could have been caught, like engine failures."

We found the same trend with the 568 vehicles used by the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, too.

No record of maintenance at all.

To those of us who own vehicles ourselves, it seems like everyone would know that.

"Should know that," State Auditor Stacey Pickering said. "If we're not entering the right information, the whole system breaks down."

That system, Pickering said, is designed to make sure state agencies are being as efficient as possible, because when they're not, Mississippi taxpayers end up footing the bill. 

"Are you taking care of what you bought with my tax dollars? That's the question that affects us. And the bottom line: if cars aren't being maintained, if they're not being serviced properly, then your cost of ownership is gonna go through the roof," Pickering said. "That car's going to be broken down a lot sooner, will have to be traded in, and then the cost of replacing cars more frequently will be a rising cost to taxpayers."

3 On Your Side worked closely with the Department of Finance and Administration to narrow down the state agencies that had the most inaccurate vehicle information from that November PEER report.

The top four state agencies were DPS, the Mississippi Department of Corrections; Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and the Mississippi Forestry Commission.

The information showed 40 percent of DPS' vehicles had traveled more than a million miles, a trend that kept showing up in other agencies, too.

One MDOC vehicle had listed more than 20 million miles allegedly traveled.

Hall said that lack of mileage information -- plus the maintenance issues -- means fleet managers are essentially flying blind.

You see, if preventive maintenance is a stop along the way, the odometer is the road map itself. 

Without both of those, you've got no way to know how efficient -- and safe -- your fleet really is.

"If something had already been repaired once and it needs it again and those numbers aren't there, if there's too many miles here and not enough there, you've got a huge discrepancy there," Hall said.

How is that happening?

Every agency we talked to said it's because of the system lawmakers introduced to organize all this information, called MAGIC.

"MAGIC has been a problem since it was first implemented. Some of the checks and balances in the software were actually never turned on, never have been implemented," Pickering said.

While it's considered a powerful tool, Pickering said it wasn't used correctly, in part, because lawmakers failed to adequately fund training for employees.

There were other issues, too, like some agencies using other older systems instead of MAGIC.

That's what happened in DPS' case, according to spokesperson Warren Strain.

What other data was missing?

In some cases, agencies weren't assigning these vehicles to individuals in the system, meaning it was hard to tell what the vehicles were being used for, or if they were even needed at all.

Take the state's Department of Corrections.

78 percent of MDOC's vehicles had not been assigned.

For weeks, 3 On Your Side reached out to all four to see how they were correcting this bad bookkeeping.

We also wanted on-camera interviews with these fleet managers.

In the end, we got emailed statements and a phone call.

"The taxpayers of the state of Mississippi should not only expect, but they should demand transparency. There's no excuse for passing the buck or avoiding answering the question," Pickering said.

Strain told us DPS was making progress in fixing the issues.

"As soon as the agency was made aware of the situation by DFA, we immediately coordinated efforts to begin correcting the issues at hand," Strain wrote in an emailed statement. "Many of the data issues identified in March of 2017 are due to the agency utilizing an agency-specific system to capture most of this data instead of MAGIC.  DPS and DFA have been working together since that time, in order to resolve and correct any data issues and expect the updated data to more accurately reflect the status of the DPS fleet."

MDOC spokesperson Grace Fisher said they've assigned three people to ensure maintenance and repair costs are documented there.

"[MDOC] is aware of the importance of maintaining accurate vehicle management data. Since November, the department has been working on fleet data cleanup with [DFA]," Fisher wrote. "The department has determined that inaccurate high mileage is a result of converting to MAGIC. For example, the vehicle showing 20,017,496 miles actually had 37,382 miles. Of the department’s 603-vehicle fleet, 217 were showing inaccurate high mileage due to conversion. That number is now down to 25 as cleanup continues."

However, Fisher didn't have an answer for why more than three-fourths of their vehicles had not been assigned.

"MDOC is addressing all reporting problems. [Those three people assigned] will be responsible for entering work orders as well as other fleet management duties. The agency is working with DFA to correct all reporting problems," Fisher concluded.

MFC spokesperson Brighton Forester told us they had so many vehicles without maintenance costs because those had to be keyed in by hand from paper receipts before they started using Fuelman in 2017.

Forester also said it was very easy for vehicles to incorrectly show that they'd traveled a million miles – after all, 16 percent of theirs showed that – because of the software.

"For example, let’s say my last odometer entry was 5,465 miles. If I entered 5,457 miles during my point-of-sale transaction to fuel my vehicle, instead of the correct 5,475 miles, the entry would show up in the system as having 1 million miles on the odometer and potentially throws off the formula that calculates [miles per gallon]," Forester wrote. "When our Fleet Management Department goes through the data, they specifically check for these errors and resolve the data against the physical records on the vehicle, making the necessary corrections on a monthly basis."

MDWFP also responded to our requests for comment.

The agency's director of technical programs, Larry Castle, said all of their errors were clerical in nature and have since been corrected.

"It got as bad as it had because there were big fingers of employees typing into a new fleet management program, of which familiarity had not really been acquired yet. And it was employees in the field, who, when they got a vehicle serviced, would mis-enter a personal identification number assigned to the vehicle," Castle said. "In summary, DFA has given us a complete bill of health. I'm not necessarily angry that this occurred. If we had entry-level errors, we need accountability."

Pickering said he's seeing progress, too, but has no tolerance for those unwilling to correct this bad data.

"As you pointed out, there are some state agencies to say this is what we've done," Pickering said. "They know their data, they know their management and they can tell you exactly why the numbers are why they are and what steps they've taken in the past to fix these problems, and they're good stewards, but then you have other folks who they just want to make excuses they're comfortable doing the job the way it's always been done, and that's just not acceptable."

Here's a breakdown of the data 3 On Your Side received based on categories highlighted by the November PEER report.

  • Department of Public Safety
    • Total number of fleet vehicles: 936
    • Vehicles with no assignment type: 67 (7.2%)
    • Vehicles with no listed preventive maintenance cost: 936 (100%)
    • Vehicles with at least one million miles listed: 383 (40.9%)
    • Vehicles with MPG of 100 or more: 427 (45.6%)
  • Mississippi Department of Corrections
    • Total number of fleet vehicles: 620
    • Vehicles with no assignment type: 486 (78.4%)
    • Vehicles with no listed preventive maintenance cost: 307 (49.5%)
    • Vehicles with at least one million miles listed: 201 (32.4%)
    • Vehicles with MPG of 100 or more: 272 (43.9%)
  • Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks
    • Total number of fleet vehicles: 568
    • Vehicles with no assignment type: 449 (79.1%)
    • Vehicles with no listed preventive maintenance cost: 568 (100%)
    • Vehicles with at least one million miles listed: 164 (28.9%)
    • Vehicles with MPG of 100 or more: 197 (34.7%)
  • Mississippi Forestry Commission
    • Total number of fleet vehicles: 398
    • Vehicles with no assignment type: 141 (35.4%)
    • Vehicles with no listed preventive maintenance cost: 152 (38.2%)
    • Vehicles with at least one million miles listed: 65 (16.3%)
    • Vehicles with MPG of 100 or more: 103 (25.9%)

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