by: Richard Belcher Updated:ATLANTA,None —
The Georgia Department of Transportation spends more than $2 billion in taxes every year, but the agency's financial management has ranged from terrible to poor for years, according to auditors.
Every year, GDOT spends hundreds of millions of dollars, nearly all of it from state and federal fuel taxes. Residents buy gasoline, and the DOT gets money for roads and bridges. Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Richard Belcher discovered that state auditors have just given GDOT their fourth straight scathing report.
"I started with 2008, the audit report, and I was surprised. It was terrible," said Laurie Dyke, a forensic accountant who Channel 2 Action News asked to review the most recent GDOT audits.
"Millions and millions of dollars of things were found and needed to be corrected," said Dyke.
Back then, GDOT's money management became a political issue.
"People went to jail over similar things in Enron and other corporations, and those were private corporations," said former Gov. Sonny Perdue in July 2009.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the state attorney general conducted a criminal investigation of the DOT's former treasurer, but no one was charged.
"They are better now, but they still don't have adequate financial controls to prepare and present materially accurate financial statement in accordance with the law," said Dyke.
GDOT officials said they’re working on it.
"We have some work to do in that area, too. We've admitted that. I think we've been working closely with the state accounting office and the state auditors and the governor's to come up with, overcome those," said GDOT Commissioner Keith Golden .
Golden and the GDOT treasurer told Belcher that software problems have contributed to the financial mismanagement, but Dyke agrees.
The most contentious issue is that GDOT has moved money among its 15 or 18 separate programs without the approval of the legislature, which is illegal.
Auditors said the confusion over the various programs is so great that neither GDOT nor the auditors can say whether the agency spent its money as the legislature intended last year.
Dyke said the current situation is probably beyond repair.
"It can't get better. There is no way it will get better," said Dyke.
The amount of unspent cash in GDOT accounts has risen from none in 2008 to well over $1 billion last summer.
Highway contractors complain GDOT's financial mismanagement has kept it from letting contracts and creating jobs as quickly as it should.
State auditor Russell Hinton called the last few audits of GDOT's finances scathing.
"I don't know if it is scathing, but I know that we have work to do," said Golden.
Belcher asked Dyke to grade GDOT's financial management.
"Originally, I would say it was an 'F.' It's probably come up to a 'C', if you just look at the improvement, but there is still a long ways to go," said Dyke.
Dyke told Belcher real progress will require that GDOT, in effect, zero out its old accounts and start over.
Commissioner Golden and his staff said the governor, the legislature and the attorney general are all on board to try to correct the problems, and put those Enron insults in GDOT's rear view mirror.