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Government, Politics & Issues

Audit finds Department of Conservation doesn't always follow directions

(all photos via Missouri Department of Conservation)

Though it's generally well run, the Missouri Department of Conservation has had trouble following directions.

That is the conclusion of a report released Friday by auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat.

The department manages and aids the public's use of the state's fish, forest, and wildlife resources. The main points in the audit include:

  • The department failed to make sure clothing allowances it provides to employees are properly reported as taxable benefits.

Generally speaking, tax regulators consider clothing that has logos on it as a benefit that cannot be taxed, and clothing that has no logo and therefore can be worn outside of work as a taxable benefit. The audit found that since 2007, the MDC had started marking clothing without the logo with a small stamp on the inside of the article so it could not be considered "general use," and therefore was not taxable. "MDC officials ... could provide no legal support for this position," auditors wrote in the report. 
The MDC replied that it believed it was properly abiding by tax regulations and did not see the need to consider clothing without the logos as a taxable benefit.

  • Some groups receiving money to manage community forests or wildlife habitats on private property were overpaid because the department failed to follow grant guidelines.

Tree Resource Improvement and Maintenance grant give groups like public schools and non-profit agencies financial support to manage community forests. Reimbursement is based on the actual costs of the work the agencies do. Auditors found that the department improperly gave a school district a bonus and covered the registration cost of a department employee who did not attend a conference.
The report also found the MDC mishandled four of the 20 grants it reviewed from the Landowner Assistance Program, which helps landowners manage wildlife habitats on their property.

The department promised to better scrutinize future payments and make efforts to recoup overpayments.

  • MDC officials failed to give an ad agency hired to do a statewide marketing campaign information about its budget, despite a contractual requirement to do so.

In March 2013, the department hired an unidentified firm to put together a statewide campaign. About seven months later, it terminated the contract and brought the work in-house. All together, the firm made about $225,000
The audit found that MDC officials couldn't show they had given the agency a maximum budget for the project. The report also said the agency failed to provide enough detail when submitting its documentation.

The department promised to follow state contracting guidelines in the future, but said it had properly monitored the advertising contract to make sure that costs stayed within the allotted budget.

Galloway's office also found that the department inappropriately paid for group meals and did not make public legal settlements totaling $67,900. The MDC disputed both those findings.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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