A state audit of the Colorado Department of Transportation cites lapses in its budget practices, including how it reports progress on construction projects.
Overall, the budget problems lead to a lack of transparency and accountability in how CDOT spends its money, the audit said.
The performance audit by the Colorado Office of the State Auditor covers CDOT’s budget practices for fiscal year 2017, between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017.
The report covers a period under previous Gov. John Hickenlooper when Shailen Bhatt was CDOT’s executive director. The current director under Gov. Jared Polis is Shoshana Lew.
The report did not uncover fraud.
The agency overspent its approved budget by $582.7 million using funds it carried over from the previous year but failed to report to the General Assembly as required, the audit found.
The agency’s budget that year was $1.563 billion, according to the audit, and CDOT carried forward more than $1 billion into the 2016-17 budget year that wasn’t included in its spending plan, the audit reported.
“Not reporting that balance was a substantial omission since those funds accounted for 40% of the department’s total available funding in Fiscal Year 2017,” the report said. CDOT staffer told auditors they were unaware that state law requires carryover funds to be reported in the budget plan.
CDOT also failed to update its budget plan after receiving more federal dollars than originally anticipated, about $43.7 million more than was in the approved budget, out of a total $718.6 million in federal funding, the audit said.
The audit also reported that CDOT’s management views the budget plan as something to show to policymakers, contractors and the Transportation Commission rather than a blueprint on how it should spend its funding.
In its response to the findings, CDOT pointed out that the budget plan is often completed without knowing exactly how much federal funding the agency will receive.
In a statement, CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said the department “appreciates the work of the Office of the State Auditor and finds its recommendations constructive as we strive to constantly improve the department and our business processes. It is important to understand that the underlying issue raised in the audit with respect to CDOT spending pertains not to whether the expenses were appropriate, but to when in the cycle of transportation planning those expenses were approved, relative to when expenses were spent down over the course of execution.
“As indicated in our responses, the department is well-prepared to address the recommendations of the audit; many of the recommendations align with initiatives already in progress, and in several cases recommendations have already been implemented. Next year’s budget presentation from CDOT will look different than last year’s, and the public should have a better understanding of the full scope of our work going forward.”