A report released Thursday by Ohio Auditor Keith Faber says the Ohio Department of Transportation could save $10 million to $21 million a year by reducing its use of contractors to inspect road and bridge construction projects.
Currently, the agency uses a mix of employees and independent contractors to complete those inspections. The state does this since road constructional work is seasonal, and paying by the hour gives them more staffing flexibility.
But hiring contractors is three times more expensive, the audit states.
An ODOT spokesman wasn’t immediately available for comment. But in a written response to the audit, ODOT officials acknowledged “room for improvement” when it comes to their use of consultants. But they also said challenges with using internal staff for inspections include travel time for inspectors and difficulties retaining seasonal workers.
Faber’s office was assigned to audit ODOT’s operations for potential savings as part of the state budget bill passed by state lawmakers last year.
Legislators reasoned that as they raised gas taxes on Ohio’s drivers to pay for a deficit in the state’s road-and-bridge fund, they also should try to find ways to save money in the state’s transportation operations.
“ODOT has indicated they want to find $100 million in savings,” Faber said in an interview. “This performance audit finds a big chunk of that for them. They just have to implement it.”
Other findings from the audit:
• ODOT could save $450,000 a year by reducing its use of consultants to perform IT work.
• The agency should not sell its vehicle fleet in favor of leasing, saying that could cost the agency an extra $22 to $42 million a year. The state transportation budget bill required auditors to study the issue as a possible way to save money. Auditors did suggest ODOT consider renting seasonal equipment.
The audit also criticized ODOT for not collecting more data on how its equipment is used.
“It was really clear that ODOT did not have the data to effectively analyze their operations and make decisions about them,” Faber said.
Gov. Mike DeWine recently signed an executive order that could address this by requiring state agencies to develop plans to install “smart” technology in all its vehicles, including technology that would connect all the cars to a digital network.
A second phase of the audit, which will focus on a considerably larger part of ODOT’s operations, is expected to be finished later this year. The auditor’s office is hiring an engineering consultant, since the second part of the review will focus on things like ODOT’s construction and maintenance planning.
The first phase of the audit cost around $250,000, while the second phase is expected to cost $500,000 to $1 million.
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