- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 29, 2015

If the Homeland Security Department had a color code for waste, fraud and abuse, its management of law enforcement vehicles would be code red after leasing more cars than it had officers to drive them.

The agency charged with providing security and law enforcement for federal buildings across the country wasted more than $2.5 million in fiscal year 2014 alone by poorly managing its fleet of police and administrative cars.

In a report, the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general’s office blasted the Federal Protective Service for a number of wasteful management decisions, including:

⦁ Leasing 101 more vehicles than the total number of full-time equivalent law enforcement positions.

⦁ Leasing 32 administrative vehicles without justifying their function to support agency operations.

⦁ Leasing SUVs instead of smaller sedans for over 90 percent of its fleet.

⦁ Adding costly and unjustified law enforcement equipment packages to vehicles.

“This is a regrettable misuse of taxpayer funds due to questionable management decisions,” Inspector General John Roth said. “FPS must put policies and procedures in place to prevent future abuses and get an accurate accounting of its vehicle needs and expenses.”

The report was released four years after President Obama issued a mandate to federal agencies to eliminate unnecessary or nonessential vehicles in order to preserve taxpayer funds.

“FPS’ ignoring Obama’s downsizing rhetoric shows the wink-and-nod approach to governing in his administration, where they feed the people popular lies while doing just the opposite,” said Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government.

The House Homeland Security subcommittee on oversight and management efficiency requested the audit.

Spending watchdogs say the audit illustrates the federal agency’s unwillingness to cut back on frivolous luxuries at the expense of taxpayers while national debt is growing.

“If Pope Francis can ride around in a Fiat, I think government bureaucrats can make do without black SUVs for every jot around the corner,” said Ryan Ellis, tax policy director at Americans for Tax Reform.

For wasting tax dollars on extra cars, large SUVs and beefed-up equipment packages without justification, the Federal Protective Service wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting the most egregious examples of wasteful federal spending.

In fiscal year 2014, the Federal Protective Service spent an estimated $10.7 million to operate its fleet of 1,169 vehicles.

In addition to providing each police officer with a vehicle, the Federal Protective Service provides a spare car to each region in the event that one of the vehicles is in need of repair. But the agency has not recently conducted an analysis to determine how many spare vehicles are needed relative to the size of its fleet and has made changes to its spare vehicle ration without documentation, according to the report.

It said each extra law enforcement vehicle costs the Federal Protective Service an average of $9,500 annually.

The agency also was unable to justify the 32 administrative vehicles it leases for mission support functions. Homeland Security policy requires vehicle fleet managers to determine whether using public transportation, taxis, rental cars, or privately owned vehicles would be more economical before acquiring additional government vehicles.

According to the report, “FPS has not performed an analysis to ensure that leasing these administrative vehicles is more cost efficient and was unaware of the requirement.”

Each administrative vehicle costs the Federal Protective Service an average of $3,500 annually. By reducing its fleet by 133, the agency could save more than $1 million annually.

“This sort of waste is so preventable if agencies would simply institute common-sense oversight reforms,” said Curtis Kalin, a spokesman for the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste. “The FPS is a significant agency, and every dollar wasted there is a dollar not being used in FPS’ core mission of protecting federal buildings. Safeguarding the taxpayers’ money should be a paramount concern of every department in government.”

Auditors also found that the Federal Protective Service leased large SUVs for its officers instead of smaller sedans for no reason.

In fiscal year 2014, the standard vehicle issued to law enforcement was an SUV. The agency’s 1,059 SUVs make up 93 percent of the Federal Protective Service’s total fleet.

However, its fleet manual states that the midsize sedan is the preferred vehicle type. Exceptions for larger vehicles are allowed when necessary. The Federal Protective Service did not formally validate its need for the larger vehicle to meet its mission requirements.

According to the report, a law enforcement SUV costs on average $1,200 more to lease annually than a sedan. If the agency replaced all of its law enforcement SUVs with sedans, it could have saved more than $1.1 million.

Federal Protective Service officials told auditors that the decision to lease larger vehicles was based on the assumption that the SUVs would be better suited to store and carry required law enforcement equipment such as rifles, riot gear and biochemical protective suits.

“We tested the storage capacity of a sedan and determined that it also can store the standard issued law enforcement equipment,” auditors wrote in the report.

Investigators reviewed payments for 11 Federal Protective Service sedans and found that the agency overpaid $35,031 in monthly charges for law enforcement vehicle alteration packages. The agency has not confirmed whether it is overpaying on other leases.

In its response to the inspector general’s report, the Homeland Security Department said it “remains committed to effectively managing its vehicle fleet and controlling associated costs while meeting mission requirements.”

Homeland Security officials are working on a revised set of instructions that will incorporate additional oversight and fleet management, “including mandatory reviews of all motor vehicle acquisitions.”

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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