DOT steel scrapped

October 31, 2008 4:59:01 AM PDT
Eyewitness News has uncovered that the North Carolina Department of Transportation scrapped 170,000 pounds of supplies bought with your tax dollars. "I have watched DOT waste money for all the years I've been there and I'm just tired of seeing it," says an anonymous state worker. We agreed to hide his identity so he doesn't lose his job.

    Steve Daniels: This makes you wonder who's minding the checkbook.
    State worker: It really does.
    Steve Daniels: This is our money.
    State worker: Sure is.
    Steve Daniels: Taxpayer money.
    State worker: Sure is.
This long time state DOT worker works at the DOT depot on Hillsborough Street near the Raleigh Beltline. He gave us documents called a Pick List showing how the DOT shipped new steel to a scrapyard.

    Steve Daniels: Did anybody say, wait a minute, why are we getting rid of it?
    State worker: I haven't heard that story.
    Steve Daniels: Nobody said, let's hang on to this, maybe we could do something better with it.
    State worker: The story I heard was throw it away.

The worker told us, it took weeks for the DOT to take all the steel to the scrapyard.

    State worker: It's just a lot of brand new steel being thrown away that we could have used for something.

The bins at the depot are empty now but they used to be filled with steel paid for with taxpayer money. The DOT says it sent 171,000 pounds of steel to the scrapyard.

    State worker: It was the talk of the equipment depot. Can you believe that they're throwing this new steel away?
    Steve Daniels: Everyone who saw this happening thought it was a ridiculous idea?
    State worker: Oh absolutely, yeah, it's been one of the laughing jokes of the depot since then.

"I can assure you this isn't a joke to us," says Drew Harbinson. He's the man in charge of inventory at the DOT.

    Steve Daniels: Can you see this guy's point, that this looks like a big waste of money, taking 170,000 pounds of steel and getting rid of it?
    Drew Harbinson: Well I would just simply ask him what would he suggest we do with it? Again, you can't just use this steel for anything.

Harbinson says the DOT did offer it to other divisions across the state.

"So it wasn't just thrown away, and it wasn't just cast off without some opportunity to use what we could," says Harbinson. He also points out the steel was not certified for use on bridges.

"So that's one of the reasons we didn't just throw the door open and invite people to come in and get the steel," says Harbinson.

Harbinson says the state did sell the steel to a scrap yard for 11 cents a pound and received about $19,000. But, according to a local steel company, buying that steel brand new would cost about $120,000.

    Steve Daniels: It wasn't going to go bad, it wasn't going to spoil on you, couldn't you keep it there forever?
    Drew Harbinson: Well, you could argue that, but we have need for the space here, so we can better manage the steel we do have.

Our inside source says the problem is the DOT is not run like a business, it's a big bureaucracy.

    State worker: The people that are doing it, they're not spending their money. Their paycheck is coming next week whether they sell the steel or not.
    Steve Daniels: You're saying there's no incentive for the people who are making these decisions to make better decisions.
    State worker: That's exactly what I'm saying. It's another governmental waste by people that are, they're not spending their money, they're spending yours.

Harbinson disagrees with that characterization and says his unit has worked hard over the past 10 years to cut costs and become more efficient. He says he ran his own business for nine years and brings that mindset to the DOT.

He also says the DOT doesn't have the same need for steel as it used to because it no longer builds parts with that kind of steel and that's why the DOT got rid of it.

If you have a tip that you'd like Eyewitness News to investigate send us an email at investigates@abc11mail.com.


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