The state Department of Transportation improperly paid nearly $321,000 to eight employees working on the Tappan Zee Bridge for their commute to work in Tarrytown — despite warnings that it was inappropriate, an audit today alleged.
The audit by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said the DOT failed to report nearly $227,000 in travel expenses to the proper taxing authorities from 2009 through 2011 — an apparent violation of IRS guidelines.
“DOT needs to make sure its managers are aware of state travel rules and enforce them,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “After an internal audit identified the improper payments, DOT continued to make them, even with multiple opportunities to remedy the situation. DOT needs to do a better job protecting taxpayer dollars and ensuring its employees are not paid for routine commuting costs.”
In August 2007, DOT selected Tarrytown, Westchester County, for the Tappan Zee Bridge project office. The state in 2011 announced plans for a $3.9 billion new bridge between Westchester and Rockland counties over the Hudson River.
The state, however, has been undertaking major repairs to the aging bridge and assigned eight employees to work at the Tarrytown office.
DiNapoli said the DOT incorrectly designated Poughkeepsie as each employee’s official station, which is about 55 miles from the office and more than 35 miles from each employee’s home.
So the DOT inappropriately allowed the workers to claim car mileage and toll costs for their commute.
In March 2011, a DOT internal audit questioned the official station designation of the eight employees and said they shouldn’t be getting the reimbursements, DiNapoli said.
But even still, DiNapoli’s audit found that seven Tappan Zee Bridge project employees continued to work at the Tarrytown office through September 2011. And DOT didn’t change its policies.
DiNapoli’s auditors identified $101,706 in personal car mileage, tolls and other travel expenses from June 2010 through September 2011.
The total between 2007 and 2011 came to $320,756 for commuting expense, mainly mileage.
There was no immediate comment from the DOT on the audit.
In the audit, DOT officials acknowledged “that better guidance on this matter was needed,” the audit said, and new policies were implemented last year.
“Although NYSDOT’s previous policy was adequate for the overwhelming majority of assignments, it did not clearly address the relatively rare instances where employees were assigned to a work location for an initially undetermined amount of time and the assignment exceeded one year,” the agency responded in a letter attached to the audit.