Problems surrounding Nassau County’s take-home vehicle policy that were identified in 2015 did not get fixed, according to a new audit from the county comptroller’s office.
According to the audit, the county still does not have a complete and accurate inventory of all take-home vehicle assignments. Seventy-one vehicles were transferred to an outside contractor, and while the county still owned the vehicles, it did not know who was driving them. Over 20 percent of Nassau employees with take-home vehicles had not complied with the county’s online motor vehicle policy acknowledgment.
And there is little accountability over the vehicle assignments. In one example given in the report, a vehicle that was assigned to an employee — since retired — could not be found for weeks.
“A lack of oversight puts taxpayers at real risk, as Nassau is self-insured and would be held liable for the actions of individuals who could be operating a county-owned vehicle without authorization or even without a valid license,” Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman said in a statement. “These are problems that can be resolved by supervisors taking basic measures to hold employees accountable.”
A previous audit conducted under George Maragos and released in 2015 found many of the same problems and recommended several solutions. The 2018 audit examined 11 of those suggested solutions and found that Nassau had only followed through on two of them. Issues such as unauthorized employees using vehicles for personal use and the need for annual reviews of the need for take-home vehicles were among the many not addressed.
Schnirman said the audit is proof that the comptroller’s office should continue following up old audits.
“This audit is a great example of why our office set a new policy to always follow-up on audits after six months to see if our recommendations are being followed,” he said. “Government needs to be better — it shouldn’t take two full-blown audits for common-sense changes to be made. Thankfully, after these problems were again brought to light, the new administration has begun taking corrective action.”
The recommendations made in the 2018 audit were similar to those in the 2015 audit. The report called on Nassau to maintain a countywide master list of approved take-home vehicles and to centralize fleet management. This centralization would also make it easier to ensure that retiring employees have returned their vehicles.
It said the county should meet with various departments to ensure all employees with vehicles have a valid driver’s license. Employees for outside contractors operating county-owned vehicles should be listed and have insurance. Employees who live outside of Nassau should have different policies.
The county currently has 363 take-home vehicles, about 20 less than it did in 2015. A majority of these vehicles are used by five departments: the Police Department, the Public Works Department, the district attorney’s office, the Sheriff/Corrections Department and the Fire Commission.
The findings of the audit were praised by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.
“Transparency in our government is a priority for my administration,” she said in a statement. “We must restore faith in government. The efforts of Comptroller Schnirman and his team are an important step towards this goal.”
Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at [email protected], by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.