Michigan worker drove state vehicle for 'personal errands' during pandemic, review finds

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — An employee of the Michigan Department of Education used a state-provided vehicle for "personal errands" and occasionally drove more than 30 miles for car washes and fuel, according to an investigation by the Office of the Auditor General.

The individual drove the vehicle 1,450 miles over the first 16 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report found. The mileage occurred as state government ordered most of its employees to work from home and prohibited non-essential in-state work travel.

The Auditor General's Fraud Investigative Services Team performed and released its findings Thursday morning. The 16-page document didn't name the state employee but called on the Department of Education to "undertake a review of all vehicle usage during the pandemic."

The employee, who was the focus of the investigation, had not submitted travel logs for the first 11 months of the pandemic, the Office of the Auditor General reported. 

"MDE notified the employee in February 2021 to retroactively submit all travel logs back to March 2020," the office said. "However, because MDE did not ensure the employee submitted a travel log at the end of each month as required, it could not ensure the accuracy of subsequently reported mileage on specific days within those 11 months and was unaware the employee had recorded unusually high periodic use of the vehicle during the pandemic."

The Auditor General's office launched the investigation after hearing about an allegation a Department of Education employee drove their state vehicle for personal use.

The department agreed with the office's findings, according to the Thursday report, and planned to provide annual training for managers on reviewing staff travel logs and vehicle service records for accuracy on a monthly basis.

The department's staff will also investigate the situation, the report said. The department has assigned state vehicles to 39 employees.

The individual who was the focus of the report wrecorded driving the car 1,450 miles from March 16, 2020, through July 16, 2021. The unidentified worker stated the reason for the travel was "periodic car use" on 42 different dates.

"The employee recorded driving between 12 and 105 miles on these days and averaged 37 miles per trip to 15 different destinations," the Auditor General's report found.

The worker informed investigators that the individual believed it was necessary to periodically drive the vehicle for maintenance purposes. However, "the number of miles recorded appeared to exceed any reasonable interpretation of MDE’s informal guidance to occasionally start the vehicle and/or drive it around the block," the Auditor General's office wrote.

The employee also told investigators the vehicle was used for "personal errands" and did not distinguish between personal miles and maintenance miles on the travel logs.

The driving included six trips, ranging from 35 to 63 miles, between the worker's home and a state garage for car washes, service and fuel.

"There were closer options for fuel and car washes, including a gas station less than a mile from the employee′s residence," the Auditor General reported.

A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education didn't immediately respond Thursday morning to a  request for comment.