Leaders to probe lapses at MVA

Lawmakers to question agency on report naming a series of shortfalls

December 14, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Maryland lawmakers will grill Motor Vehicle Administration officials today about a report that outlines almost two dozen management lapses, including a failure to refer evidence of criminal conduct by employees to prosecutors.

The hearing by the Joint Audit Committee comes less than a week after legislative auditors released a report on the MVA finding multiple failures to carry out many of its most important responsibilities.

According to the audit, the MVA has not moved quickly to suspend the driver's licenses of drunken drivers and deadbeat parents, as required by law. The report also found the agency was doing an inadequate job of suspending vehicle registrations when the owners' insurance had lapsed.

In addition, the audit found that the MVA was failing to identify late payments of titling taxes and registration fees collected by vehicle dealerships on behalf of the state.

"It's messy," said state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, Senate co-chairman of the audit panel.

The auditors found, and the agency admitted, that the MVA violated executive orders from two governors requiring agencies to report evidence of criminal or unethical behavior by employees to the state attorney general's office.

After examining five such cases, the auditors determined that in some of them the MVA took disciplinary action against the employees involved but did not report the cases to the attorney general's criminal investigation division.

The auditors gave the example of a case in which the MVA received evidence in October 2001 that an employee voided more than $7,000 in sales of registration tags to motorists, gave them the stickers and kept the money. The audit found that the MVA fired the employee but did not attempt to recover the money or refer the evidence to prosecutors.

McFadden described that finding as "troubling" and said he will ask agency officials for an explanation.

"I hope they have a valid reason for not moving forward," the Baltimore Democrat said.

David H. Hugel, the MVA's administrator, declined to comment yesterday about the findings.

"The administrator feels it's inappropriate to speak until after he has spoken to the audit committee," said agency spokesman Buel Young.

The audit made 22 findings of inadequate performance and controls by the agency from 2001 through last year. They included:

The MVA's internal controls on the issuance of driver's licenses were lax, permitting applicants to receive licenses without documentation adequate for supervisors to follow up on a case.

The MVA failed to verify that out-of-state driver's licenses surrendered by people applying for Maryland licenses had been destroyed, raising the possibility they could be used for unauthorized purposes.

The agency's driver's license database included about 2,800 cases in which the same Social Security number was recorded for two licenses, even though the MVA had brought a computer system on line to verify the numbers.

Decisions on license suspensions and revocations were being made at staff level, without review by supervisors.

When offenders were convicted of traffic violations while driving on a revoked license, the MVA was failing to extend the revocations as the law allows.

The MVA's computer systems lacked adequate protections against hackers.

The MVA is one of three Department of Transportation agencies whose audits will be presented to the panel today.

The panel will hear from Maryland Transportation Authority officials about lapses in its E-ZPass automated toll-collection system. The agency has acknowledged that "technical malfunctions" between 1999 and last year enabled a contractor to keep $1.45 million in tolls that should have been paid to the state.

According to the agency, the contractor has acknowledged that it is liable for repaying the state.

The committee will also be briefed on two audits that found State Highway Administration managers had awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to favored bidders without meaningful competition. Both cases are under criminal investigation.

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