City wasted $918,000 on gas cards, inspector general finds

Baltimore city employees wasted nearly $1 million in recent years purchasing fuel at private gas stations instead of filling up at cheaper, government-owned pumps, the city's inspector general reported Tuesday.

Inspector General David N. McClintock probed expenses under a contract with Wright Express Financial Services, which managed gasoline credit cards given to some city employees, partly for use while traveling, from 2007 to 2012.

McClintock concluded that a small program initially intended for limited law enforcement purposes, such as letting sheriff's deputies transporting prisoners fill up on road trips, expanded greatly and led to questionable spending. In some cases, workers used private stations when only minutes away from a city-owned pump, he said. More than 700 such gas cards have been in use by city agencies.

"Our review determined that the fuel card program has not been effectively managed by its City users," McClintock wrote. "Further, the City has failed to utilize many of the oversight and control tools provided by the vendor in a significant or meaningful manner."

Each gallon of fuel purchased through Wright Express cost on average 89 cents more than fuel pumped at the city's 18 fueling stations, McClintock wrote, and the city lost about $150,000 a year as workers unnecessarily filled up their tanks at commercial gas stations. Over six years, those costs equaled about $918,000 in wasteful spending, he found.

McClintock — who recently investigated a controversial overhaul of the city's phone system — also wrote that the program had expanded beyond the scope of the contract approved by the Board of Estimates.

The office of the inspector general "believes that the program has deviated considerably from its stated purpose," he wrote.

McClintock said he believes the program needs to be re-evaluated and, if it's continued, should be operated with more restrictions and oversight. If run properly, the program could provide a good way for supervisors to track gas expenses, he said.

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said city agencies are already implementing the reforms recommended in the report. Ryan O'Doherty, the mayor's spokesman, noted that the report shows the program dates back to 1999 and that most of the private fuel expenses were for police and fire vehicles.

"Mayor Rawlings-Blake hired the inspector general to root out potential waste and to help increase savings of taxpayer dollars even under longstanding contracts and programs, and that is exactly what has happened here," he said. "Everyone should expect to see more IG reports and more efforts to reduce spending and eliminate waste."

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