'Lack of oversight' led NCDOT to overspend $742 million last fiscal year, state auditor says

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina State Auditor Beth A. Wood told a Senate committee on Wednesday that the Department of Transportation's inability to manage its budget led to overspending worth more than $742 million in the last fiscal year.

"The lack of oversight, the lack of slowing spending, the lack of monitoring spend plans," Wood told ABC11 in an interview after the hearing (her office also prepared a full presentation to complement its 54 page report). "There is no oversight. There is nobody to ensure that once there's a spending plan in place, there's no one overseeing them or holding them accountable to stay in line with that spending plan."

The NCDOT has been hit hard by budget cuts and furloughs as a result of the overspending; the COVID-19 pandemic, moreover, is exacerbating the painful choices for state officials.

Earlier this week, in fact, NCDOT announced it will furlough nearly all of its employees in phases during the next several weeks. The department said the pandemic has cost the department $300 million in revenue.

"What I think people should expect is a department that's going to work to maximize the tax dollars that go into that department and have accountability for projects that are there," Sen. Mike Woodard, a Democrat from Durham County and member of the Transportation Committee, told ABC11. "These aren't new issues. They've been things we've been struggling with for decades."

For months DOT officials have cited severe weather as reasons for its overspending, but auditors cited many more factors, including generous contracts for new construction that didn't take into account how long federal subsidies would come through or if they would arrive at all.

"We've got to know where we are, we've got to have an accounting process and an auditing process to know where we are," Sen. Tom McInnis (R-Anson, Moore, Richmond and Scotland Counties), the committee's co-chair, said. "North Carolina has the second-longest number of centerline road miles in America, second only to Texas, so we have a lot of roads to maintain."

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle maintained there is bipartisan support for passing bills during this short session to set up the kind of oversight that could prevent more cavalier spending.

A spokesman for NCDOT declined to comment, and instead pointed to the agency's official response to the audit.

"The Auditor's recommendations have been or are currently being incorporated into NCDOT," the statement read in part. "The audit highlights the complexity of the Department's financial and accounting systems."
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