HARRISBURG Audit criticizes spending habits of transportation department

The agency spent nearly $700,000 on employee recognition a few years ago.
HARRISBURG (AP) -- When the state Transportation Department set out to reward 159 state workers for job performance in December 2001, it invited them and 25 others to Philadelphia for two days of revelry that cost the state nearly $63,000.
The highlight was prime seats at a 76ers basketball game, but the recipients also partied in a hotel nightclub, toured Longwood Gardens and Valley Forge National Historical Park, both in suburban Philadelphia, and collected plaques, 200 embroidered shirts and $944 worth of disposable cameras, according to a study issued Wednesday by state Auditor General Robert P. Casey Jr.
At a news conference in the state Capitol, Casey also reported a review of PennDOT's use of state-issued purchasing cards showed lax oversight and turned up examples of fraud, among them efforts to conceal the purchase of $1,000 worth of amusement-park ride tickets and a woman who allegedly used her card to pay personal expenses, including her cable bill.
"The troubling thing, the disturbing thing, I think, the inexcusable part is the intentional misrepresentation," Casey said, calling the spending practices "an insult to taxpayers."
Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler said spending on "employee recognition" events, which amounted to nearly $700,000 in the 2001-02 fiscal year, has been reduced to just $5,000 in the current year.
The number of purchasing cards in circulation has been cut from about 1,200 to 440, and new procedures are in place to supervise their use, he said.
The report also said PennDOT has spent thousands of dollars to put its logo on everything from tape measures and umbrellas to thermometers and golf balls.
"It just doesn't fit with what I think our mission is," Biehler said.
Six months after the Philadelphia event, PennDOT picked up the $48,000 tab for 102 of its employees and 54 others to watch a Pittsburgh Pirates' home game, take a boat cruise and reap a windfall of prizes including department-logo lapel pins, chocolates, greeting cards, 130 ball caps and 600 cookies.
Casey, a Democrat, placed blame for the spending problems on former Transportation Secretary Bradley L. Mallory, who served under former Republican governors Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker. A telephone listing for Mallory could not be found and a PennDOT spokeswoman said the agency would not provide it.
Previous audits by Casey's staff have turned up evidence the purchasing cards were misused at the departments of Agriculture, Labor and Industry, Corrections and Conservation and Natural Resources.