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US DOT Blasts Mississippi For Diverting DUI Funds To Speeding Tickets
Inspector general applies a DUI ticket quota to conclude Mississippi law enforcement illegally diverted federal funding to create speed traps.

US DOT Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III
Mississippi police agencies have been diverting federal grant funds intended to combat drunk driving into an expansion of the use of speed traps. A report issued last week by the US Department of Transportation's inspector general chided the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for its lax administration of the "Section 154" grant program that failed to prevent the misuse of taxpayer money.

Between 2007 and 2010, NHTSA took $20.8 million collected from motorists around the country in federal gasoline taxes and sent it to the Mississippi Office of Highway Safety (MOHS) for use in programs meant to thwart driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Mississippi poured another $36.3 million in federal highway construction funding into the same DUI program.

"Although some local law enforcement agencies designated full-time DUI officers, these officers did not always concentrate on DUI-related activities -- indicating that federal grant funds were used to supplant the costs of general law enforcement," the inspector general report found. "Federal regulations prohibit the use of federal funds for general expenses required to carry out other responsibilities of a state or its sub-grantees."

Auditors examined a sample of $10.4 million in grants and concluded $102,218 in claims were bogus, and, outside the sample, there was another $232,981 in improper payments. From that, auditors estimate the total amount of fraudulent claims amounted to $7.1 million. State officials doled out the money to law enforcement agencies requesting it without documenting the transactions or supervising its usage.

The inspector general arrived at this conclusion by examining 2926 citations issued by 127 state and local police officers using the DUI grant money. The analysis found 73 percent of the officers issued no drunk-driving related citations at all. There were only 147 DUI arrests or citations, and the rest were for speeding, seat belt use or other minor infractions. This failed to meet the US Department of Transportation's unofficial DUI ticket quota.

"Lacking an established NHTSA standard or target, we used a reasonable baseline of one citation per 16 hours of duty time to test Section 154 compliance," the audit report explained. "We judgmentally developed our baseline using 16 hours as the equivalent of two full-time 8-hour shifts during which alcohol-impaired driving is targeted. NHTSA officials agreed that our baseline is reasonable as a calculation tool for our audit."

The report found only 21 officers met the quota. NHTSA agreed to the inspector general's recommendations to tighten compliance and demand the return of the improper payments.

"NHTSA will implement an extended oversight plan for at least two years subsequent to MOHS' de-designation as a high risk grantee, to further ensure compliance with the law and the implementation of effective internal controls by the state," NHTSA Senior Associate Administrator Brian M. McLaughlin wrote in a memo responding to the IG findings.

A copy of the inspector general's report is available in a 220k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File NHTSA Oversight of Mississippi Management of Highway Grants (US Department of Transportation, 2/6/2013)

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