We have archived video here of Gov. Mike Beebe's news conference at 11 a.m. this morning on the report on state vehicle use, now subject to a taxpayer lawsuit. We'll try to tune in for the afternoon news conference at which Republican gubernatorial Jim Keet will blame corrupt practices on them lyin' Democrats.
The news: Beebe is cracking down on the vehicle fleet, which numbers around 8,000, and says his executive order will reduce the number over time. Many people with commuting privileges are, in time, going to have to drive their own cars, not taxpayers'. This privilege will have to be justified. All those currently commuting in state cars will have to reapply. This should weed out administrators who've used clout to commute from the 'burbs but rarely use the car during the day. Beebe emphasized that car rules had been largely unchanged for 20 years and many vehicles — at universities, the highway department and game and fish — are outside the direct control of governors.
There will be a searchable database on state vehicles. Here it is. Please note that this same page includes a file with the entire state vehicle inventory. It is, on first glance, deficient in one important respect. It lists every agency's vehicle and the manner of employee that might use it. No names are supplied. That's a critical piece of information, I think, in determining past excesses, but the governor's office said these positions change and the list will be in flux. We'll know, in time, who all the commuters are because all will have to apply under the new vehicle assignment classification system.
Here also is a handy graphic that shows how the cars are distributed by state agency — highway department on top.
Beebe said he "expects" compliance even from agencies over which he doesn't have direct control, meaning the more-vehicles-than-people Game and Fish Commission.
This is one of those harmonic convergences. Democrat-Gazette reporting on a favorite old issue — starting at the top with perks for constitutional officers — turned into a hullabaloo fed by the happy coincidence of an election year. If the result is a tighter rein on state vehicle spending (and, who knows, taxpayers may be convinced that it really is cheaper and more efficient in many cases to provide many state employees with cars), great. Beebe said in response to a question that it needed to happen.
Change is already underway. The state's top fiscal officers — Richard Weiss, Tim Leathers and Michael Stormes — all have turned in their state cars. Their agency will be reviewing commuting privileges in the future and their hands, thus, will be clean.
Here's the governor's summary news release:
The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration has completed a review of information compiled about the entire fleet of state vehicles. In response, Governor Beebe has issued a new executive order regarding state vehicles that supplants a policy directive in place for more than 20 years. The new order creates specific classifications detailing which employees will be assigned state vehicles, and vacates previous commuter exemptions. State employees using a commuting waiver under the old directive will need to reapply under the new system.
Collecting this information involved unprecedented cooperation across state government, as less than half of state vehicles are operated by executive state agencies subject to DF&A oversight. The largest and most comprehensive collection of Arkansas state-vehicle information ever assembled will be available for public review, including a searchable database on DF&A's Web site.
"We need to ensure the most efficient use of our taxpayer-funded vehicle fleet, and reduce the number of vehicles as needed," Beebe said. "This is the most thorough snapshot we have had of the statewide fleet. Combined with the new executive order, it will give us the tools we need to determine the proper use of state vehicles."