TU, MTA criticized in state audit

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By: Jonathan Munshaw, Editor-in-Chief

The Maryland Transportation Administration (MTA) and Towson’s Division of Economic and Community Outreach (now known as the Division of Innovation and Applied Research) are under fire after a report was released Friday morning detailing several serious oversights between the two parties associated with a contract during the period of 2010 – 2013.

DECO, which switched to DIAR in 2013, had a contract with the MTA to provide them with employee training and services for MTA workers.

The audit said that neither side kept adequate records of the $10.63 million of spending that occurred during this period, about 10 percent of which came from the federal government and the other 90 percent came from the old Maryland Transportation Fund. Legislative auditors who released the report said that when these activities were first brought to light, the MTA didn’t do enough to investigate them.

According to a letter from Acting Secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation Pete Rahn, MTA has referred the matter to the Criminal Investigations Division of the Office of the Attorney General to determine if there was “possible criminal wrongdoing.”

Among the accusations the report makes, some of the most serious ones include a $200,000 contract that was awarded by DECO to the spouse of an MTA employee. That MTA employee has since been terminated.

There was also $93,000 spent by DECO on the “Roads Scholar program” that hadn’t been active for “several years,” according to the report. DECO was also paid an estimated $629,000 “administrative fee” by the MTA, but auditors found that the contract didn’t state such a fee would be paid.

The MTA was primarily at fault for this specialized treatment, but the University and DECO failed to actively investigate or provide oversight of these activities.

“We feel the concerns raised in the audit are old issues that have long since been resolved by the new organization [DIAR] in place,” Dyan Brasington, the vice president for DIAR, said through Director of University Communications Ray Feldmann. “DIAR has taken steps to strengthen its record keeping and accountability to ensure that this type of thing does not happen again.”

On its own, the MTA gave one employee “unilateral control” over the agreements between DECO and the MTA, and didn’t keep training records as part of the DECO program, including class registration, sign-in sheets or course outlines.

Over the four years, some of the agreements provided for DECO to provide training to a variety of MTA personnel. The costs for these trainings included $83,000 on Microsoft training and $221,120 on “Homeland Security” training. In all, expenses totalled about $4.75 million 2013.

The auditor said that DECO facilitated the MTA’s actions by failing to keep an adequate record of the contracts signed between the two parties, awarded contracts to vendors that were directly selected by the MTA and didn’t allow for any bids on the contracts, and billed the MTA for $968,100 without proper documentation for contractors and subcontractors.

DECO also submitted documents to the auditors that they said “appeared questionable” and the department didn’t submit quarterly progress reports that were required by the MTA’s contract.

In the report, the MTA made explicit statements as to what changes it would be making in the future to make sure this doesn’t happen again. It terminated the agreement with DECO on June 30, 2013 and said in the future, “…any employee [who] circumvents state procurement laws and processes [will be subject to] disciplinary action, including possible termination.”

DECO was first created in 2004 by then-President Bob Caret, who will become the Chancellor of the University System of Maryland in July. James Clements was selected as the first director of DECO after Clements chaired the presidential search committee that hired Caret.

Clements went on to serve as president at West Virginia University and is now at Clemson University as its president.

State agencies regularly worked with DECO to hold employee training programs or serve is an advisory role to any projects. It was easier for the agencies to work with DECO because Towson is another state agency, and working with a private company requires far more bureaucratic “red tape” to get through before any agreements or contracts can be signed.

On its website, DIAR says it “…serves as a point of entry for businesses, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and community members interested in collaborating with the University.”

According to the audit, DECO failed to live up to its mission to provide a “bridge that links the highly qualified research and project talent of the University to the larger community it serves.”

- Cody Boteler contributed to this article

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