Los Angeles city officials were warned by auditors three years ago about gaps in the way the city tracks millions of gallons of taxpayer-purchased fuel.
But according to a new audit released Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel, not enough was done to fix the problems. At a news conference where she announced that more than $7 million in gasoline and other fuels has gone unaccounted for in recent years, Greuel took a swipe at Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Council members and department heads for being "asleep at the switch" when monitoring fuel usage by city staff.
Each year, Los Angeles spends close to $29 million on 14 million gallons of gasoline, natural gas and diesel fuel to run garbage trucks, helicopters, police cruisers and other vehicles. Every fuel transaction is supposed to be tracked, either manually or electronically. But there are ways to bypass tracking systems.
Bypass mechanisms are supposed to be employed 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.
The city attorney's office has begun a preliminary inquiry to see if any employees broke the law. In the best-case scenario, said Greuel, who is running for mayor, the discrepancies were the result of sloppy work. But in the worst case, she said, "It's theft."
The unexplained transactions occurred despite a $12-million fuel-tracking system and accountability measures put in place after a 2009 audit.
That audit, conducted by then-City Controller Laura Chick, called on the Department of General Services to develop a website that would allow managers to monitor fuel usage by employees. It said that city departments should check the website regularly "to identify and follow-up on" any unusual transactions.
During the course of the 2009 audit, General Services established a task force to address the fuel-tracking problems and develop the website. But few departments actually monitor the online reports, Greuel said. With more oversight, she said, the unexplained transactions might have been caught sooner.
Villaraigosa said his office plans to investigate the unaccounted-for fuel to determine if any was taken for personal use or if the discrepancies can be attributed to something else.
If employees are taking gas, Villaraigosa said, "we're going to go after them to the full extent of the law."