L.A. can’t explain $7 million in fuel bills
Despite a concerted effort at Los Angeles City Hall to track the use of taxpayer-purchased fuel, more than $7 million in gasoline and other fuel has gone missing in recent years, according to an audit to be released Thursday.
At dozens of city fueling sites, millions of gallons of fuel was pumped without any record of where it went, the audit showed. City Controller Wendy Greuel, whose office conducted the investigations, said some of the unaccounted-for gasoline may have been used for personal vehicles.
The unexplained transactions occurred despite a $12-million fuel tracking system the city put in place more than a decade ago. Most departments don’t effectively use the system to monitor employees, Greuel said, a situation that she said is “indicative of the failures that are plaguing the city.”
“This would just not be acceptable in the private sector or any other place,” said Greuel, who is running for mayor.
Every year the city spends close to $29 million buying 14 million gallons of gasoline, natural gas and diesel fuel to power vehicles including garbage trucks, helicopters and police cruisers.
Some employees are issued fuel cards. Using a keypad each time they fill up, they’re expected to input their vehicle number and an odometer reading. Other city employees are assigned to vehicles that are equipped with a high-tech system that automatically logs the vehicle number, mileage and quantity of gas pumped during fueling.
But those tracking systems can be bypassed, either manually or with so-called “master cards” that are assigned to each of the city’s 141 fuel sites.
The tools to bypass the tracking system are supposed to be used only when normal systems fail. But auditors found they were used to dispense millions of gallons of fuel over a 22-month period beginning in 2009.
Master cards were swiped 56,000 times to pump $2-million worth of fuel, the audit found, and another $1.2 million in fuel was pumped using the manual bypass. In most cases, there was no paper trail showing why the backup was used and for which vehicle.
At 22 Los Angeles Police Department fueling sites, an override button meant for emergencies was used to pump $3.9 million in gas.
The audit found other problems as well, including 94,000 suspicious transactions in which the odometer reading input at the time of fueling was lower than it had been during the previous fueling. Irregularities like those should trigger reviews, Greuel said.
Since 1999, the city has paid an outside company to help it monitor fuel levels and usage. Every fuel transaction is recorded in a database managed by the Department of General Services, which in turn makes the data available to other departments. But according to the audit, only the Police Department analyzes fuel transaction data on a regular basis.