Senate panel seeks answers from Michigan transportation officials

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Michigan Senate committee is formally asking the state's department of transportation for an accounting of changes it's made after auditors found "industry influence" in a 2016 study of the aggregates market.

Aggregate consists of sand, gravel, crushed stone, slag or recycled concrete that is combined and used in road construction. 

The Michigan Senate Oversight Committee voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve a two-page report that requests an accounting of "corrective actions" the department has taken and a demonstration the department is safeguarding employees who reveal improper behavior.

State Sen. Ed McBroom

Oversight Chairman Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, said he supported the committee report because he wanted to document the committee's findings for future lawmakers in case a similar incident happened in the future.

"I want us to leave a written record of this," McBroom told his colleagues.

The Michigan Department of Transportation's Office of Commission Audits and the state's auditor general both released reports in 2019 on the department's handling of the 2016 study of the aggregates market. The study occurred during Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder's administration.

The auditor general found the department didn't follow its own contracting guidelines and “allowed industry stakeholders influence" in the state-funded study, which attempted to examine whether there was enough material available for building roadways.

"Both reports indicate there is evidence that MDOT employees deferred entirely to an industry stakeholder for tasks that should have been performed by the department," the Senate Oversight Committee's new report says.

The stakeholder in question is the Michigan Aggregates Association, which has said its role in the study contracting process was to provide information sought by the department.

Under the report approved by the oversight committee on Tuesday, the Department of Transportation has until Jan. 30 to provide an accounting of the actions it's taken. The department is also asked to demonstrate it's improved processes for ensuring employees can report bad behavior without fear of retribution and to provide "confirmation of action" taken against those who violated department policy.