State Auditor raps Transportation Department for failing to track ‘excessive’ overtime and travel

Foley recommends that GPS device be fitting on vehicles used by one employee to discern if usage was work-related

By: - March 10, 2023 3:55 pm
state auditor

The Nebraska State Auditor’s Office is located in the State Capitol. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — State Auditor Mike Foley is faulting the Nebraska Department of Transportation for lax tracking of employee travel and overtime expenses, as well as failing to address concerns raised a year ago about one particular worker.

One Transportation Department employee has racked up hundreds of hours of overtime pay while using a state vehicle. The auditor said he suspects the expenses were not work related, but that can’t be determined because of inadequate record-keeping by the department.

Nebraska Lt. Gov. Mike Foley
Mike Foley served as lieutenant governor until being elected state auditor in November, a post he had held in 2007-2015. (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

In a letter Friday, Foley asked DOT to outfit state vehicles driven by the employee with a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device to discern whether the overtime and travel expenses are justified.

“Only through such a proactive effort will it be possible to resolve the present issue and, at least for this particular employee, forestall continued concerns regarding his questionable use of state property,” the auditor wrote.

A DOT spokeswoman didn’t directly address the concerns in the letter Friday but said that the agency takes recommendations made by the auditor seriously. In January, the department said it would be reviewing its policies on documentation of travel “as deemed necessary.”

‘Excessive’ overtime

The one employee, who Foley declined to identify, had been singled out for concern in an April 2022 audit after he logged 626 hours of overtime during fiscal year 2021 and drove nearly 20,000 miles in a state vehicle over seven months of that span.

Despite the concerns about “excessive” overtime, and a recommendation that DOT begin requiring documentation of trips using state vehicles, the employee logged even more overtime in fiscal year 2022, 737 hours. Friday’s letter from Foley expressed frustration that the issues remain unresolved.

The Auditor’s Office also raised concerns about 17 purchases of fuel from a state facility by the worker that had no accompanying documentation.

While the fleet cars maintained by the State Department of Administrative Services require documentation on where trips start and stop and the purpose of the trip, the DOT, which has its own fleet of vehicles, does not.

Said Foley, “that’s just not a good business practice.”

He added that a DOT supervisor, questioned by state auditors, also could not explain the purpose of the employee’s overtime and travel.

“We’re not getting good answers,” Foley said. “We don’t see that his position requires eight-hour road trips.”

$15 million in accounting errors

A Jan. 30 letter from the auditor to the DOT contained several other recommendations, including tightening up its accounting after nearly $15 million in errors were found in the agency’s year-end financial report. That report also criticized the DOT for tardy responses to requests for information from the Auditor’s Office . It noted several responses that were sent later than the legally required three days.

The DOT’s response was that a key position was vacant last year, causing the slow responses, and that the position has since been filed. The agency said it was “refining” its financial reporting processes.

DOT spokeswoman Shannon Ankeny, in an email Friday, said that “sometimes personnel fail to properly record certain details of a few transactions.”

“Routinely, the annual review of those few instances lead to improved practices, and through training, improved accuracy,” she said.

Foley did acknowledge that state agencies have been struggling to hire accountants, who can obtain higher paying jobs in the private sector. It’s a problem for the Auditor’s Office, as well, he said.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.