South Carolina Senator Questions Spending in Era of Tightened Budget

Thu October 26, 2006 - Southeast Edition

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) A state senator, awaiting the release of an audit of the state Transportation Department, said the agency’s payment to an outside firm for an outline of a maintenance manual exemplifies its poor spending decisions.

“It’s just mind boggling to me that we would go outside our agency to write manuals about what people inside the agency should have the most knowledge of,” Sen. Greg Ryberg, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, told The Greenville News. “To spend $100,000 when they are short of money like they are, it goes to show why we had the Legislative Audit Council look at this agency.”

The payment was disclosed Oct. 13 by Transportation Department officials, who also announced the agency had been chosen as the second most cost-efficient state transportation agency in the nation by a private foundation report.

The Reason Foundation report compared state-maintained road systems and each state’s transportation budget. South Carolina ranked third-most efficient last year in the study.

“South Carolina has learned to stretch its dollars through innovation, careful resource management and effective planning,” Transportation Department Executive Director Elizabeth Mabry said in a statement announcing the results. “We have used engineering and local partnering to identify and prioritize highway maintenance and construction activities statewide so that clear goals are set and tax dollars are not wasted.”

Lawmakers and members of the agency’s board are awaiting a report from the Legislative Audit Council after a yearlong review of the department’s spending.

Transportation Board Chairman Tee Hooper, who has said the agency has mismanaged state money, said he had not seen the outside consultants’ report on the maintenance manual. But he said the payments appear to be an example of wasteful spending.

The maintenance manual project was requested in late 2004 by the Transportation Department during its accelerated construction program to provide recommendations on what should go into such a manual.

The consultants spent six months reviewing operations and interviewing employees in each of the agency’s seven districts, agency officials said.

The outline “focused on not only the typical aspects of highway maintenance such as drainage and roadway repairs but also on employee safety, environmental issues and human resources issues, to name a few,” according to the highway engineer’s office, which oversaw the work.

The report was done by the Fluor System Technology group and Civil Engineering Consulting Services, officials said.

The manual is still under development.