Audit confirms VDOT flaws

Published 12:13 pm Saturday, October 2, 2010

Guest Column
by Bill Bolling

For years, many of us in state government have been concerned that the Virginia Department of Transportation was not spending the taxpayers’ money effectively and efficiently.

We have repeatedly called for an independent audit of VDOT to assess its internal operating practices. Unfortunately, former Gov. Tim Kaine resisted such an audit, and Democrats in the state Senate consistently rejected legislation to require that an audit be performed.

However, earlier this year Gov. Bob McDonnell ordered that an independent audit of VDOT’s operations be performed and the respected auditing firm of Cherry, Bekaert and Holland was engaged to perform this audit.

The audit has now been completed, and Gov. McDonnell and I released the results of the audit last week during a Capitol press conference. Unfortunately, the audit has confirmed our worst suspicions.

As a result of the VDOT audit, we have identified $1.45 billion in transportation funding that was available for deployment but not utilized to address outstanding highway construction and maintenance needs. The audit revealed that this money has been accumulating in various VDOT accounts over the past four years due to a lack of management oversight and misguided policies that failed to require that available funds be allocated to highway projects on a timely basis.

While these findings are disturbing, it is even more disturbing that VDOT officials failed to timely deploy these funds at a time when we were cutting hundreds of millions of dollars out of our statewide highway plan, closing rest stops because we were told we didn’t have $9 million to keep them open, and repeatedly asking the people of Virginia to pay higher transportation taxes.

Gov. McDonnell has ordered that Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton develop a plan for deploying these funds within the next 45 days. We believe that $614 million of this amount can be deployed within the next 12 months, and the remaining $836 million will be used to fund projects in our Six-Year Transportation Program.

Earlier this year, you may recall that Gov. McDonnell ordered the issuance of $500 million in transportation bonds. These bonds had been authorized in 2007 but never issued.

This was another example of failing to utilize available resources to meet Virginia’s highway construction and maintenance needs.

As a result of these combined actions, we will award $800-$900 million in highway construction and maintenance contracts before Dec. 31. We are able to do this by better utilizing existing transportation revenues and without asking anyone to pay higher taxes for transportation.

In addition to this failure to timely deploy available transportation dollars for needed projects, the VDOT audit made 50 additional recommendations for improving operational efficiencies s within VDOT. Secretary Connaughton and VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley will be working to implement these recommendations as well.

Needless to say, the results of this audit are unacceptable. We have taken actions to correct these inefficiencies and make certain that these dollars are put to work for the people of Virginia. We have also taken steps to make certain that this type of inefficiency does not occur again, at least not on our watch.

These actions will not solve our long-term transportation needs, but they will go a long way in addressing a number of outstanding highway construction and maintenance projects all across our state. Moreover, they will show the people of Virginia that we are serious about efforts to reform state government, beginning with VDOT.

At a time when our administration is promoting the need for reform at every level of government, the results of this audit stand as a clarion example of why reform is so desperately needed. If these types of inefficiencies exist in VDOT, I have no doubt that similar inefficiencies exist in other agencies of state government.

The people of Virginia have a right to expect that their tax dollars will be spent wisely. Gov. McDonnell and I are committed to doing just that, and we will not stop until we have done everything we can to demand this type of efficiency from every agency of state government.

BILL BOLLING is lieutenant governor of Virginia. He can be reached at