Thursday, November 8, 2018

Auditor General DePasquale Releases Audits Of Delaware, Susquehanna River Basin Commissions: No Duplication Of Effort With DEP

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale Thursday released separate performance audits of the Susquehanna River and Delaware River basin commissions that emphasize the need for better accountability and transparency.
“These commissions play an important role in ensuring quality drinking water is available in the five states that depend on these two rivers,” DePasquale said. “I expect both panels to operate with the same degree of crystal-clear transparency that we hope to see in our tap water.”
The commissions are federal-interstate compacts charged with preserving water supply and quality, managing drought and flood conditions, and preserving water-related recreational opportunities.
In addition to receiving significant taxpayer support, the fees charged by the commissions ultimately impact the rates that many Pennsylvanians pay for municipal water and other services.
Susquehanna River
The audit noted there is no duplication of effort between what SRBC and the Department of Environmental Protection does with regard to water withdrawals, although there may be some overlapping legal authority pertaining to water withdrawals and some “appearance” of duplication.
The audit recommended an updated Memorandum of Understanding between the agencies would clear up this appearance of duplication.  In fact, DEP and SRBC have already started talks to update the MOU.
With respect to fees charged by SRBC for permit reviews, the audit said, “SRBC management stated that in light of the current lack of funding being provided by signatory parties, the SRBC may need to consider reducing/eliminating discounts offered to municipal authorities.
“This could negatively impact Pennsylvania’s public authorities that have dockets with the SRBC in the form of increased fees.
“Additionally, while SRBC management indicated the reduced contributions have not affected fees charged to project applicants and docket holders to date, it must balance revenues with its expenses, which could ultimately result in increased fees.
“With Pennsylvania accounting for over 96 percent of the docket holders, any future increases in fees will have a negative financial impact on these Pennsylvania organizations.”
The General Assembly has cut funding to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission for the last several years.
In particular, DePasquale pointed to an audit finding that the Susquehanna River Basin Commission spent over $1,000 on alcohol for meetings. [Note: No tax money was used to purchase alcohol, and SRBC has ended the practice.]
“When it comes to publicly-funded entities, there’s really only one pot of money,” he said. “It’s absurd to think that any public entity would consider buying alcohol to be an appropriate expenditure.”
DePasquale also panned the SRBC for “extravagant” food expenses, noting of the SRBC’s total $16,259 food and gratuities expenses related to meetings, the commission could not provide itemized receipts for $14,072 in food expenses, which included appetizers, filet mignon, salmon, and Maryland crab cakes, along with side dishes and desserts.
“It really begs the question: what’s going through your head when you decide to use public funds for such ridiculous meals?” said DePasquale.  “Did anyone even consider brown-bagging their lunch, as so many hardworking Pennsylvanians do every day?”
DePasquale also noted auditors reviewing SRBC spending found $14,048 in questionable costs associated with rewards and perks for employees, including:
-- Monetary and gift card rewards of $8,031;
-- A staff holiday party expense of $3,074;
-- A staff picnic costing $1,585;
-- A $100 gift card purchase for a wedding gift;
-- Bereavement donations totaling $800; and
-- Flower purchases totaling $458 for Administrative Professionals Day.
“This goes back to my one-pot argument when it comes to spending by agencies that receive public funds,” DePasquale said. “These panels are not private businesses; they are governmental bodies that must be accountable for every last penny that they spend.”
Delaware River
The audit made a similar finding with respect to duplication of effort and cuts in funding from Pennsylvania and others with respect to the Delaware River Basin Commission as it did for SRBC.
The audit of the Delaware River Basin Commission showed it was unable to provide itemized receipts for $472 in payments to restaurants.
The audits also recommend that both commissions overhaul their longstanding and out-of-date agreements with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The SRBC’s Memorandum of Understanding with DEP is nearly 20 years old; the DRBC’s Administrative Agreement with DEP is more than 40 years old.
“Not only do the commissions need wholly updated agreements, they also need additional written operational guidance in coordinating with DEP to preserve our water supply and quality,” he said.
Both audits show that most signatory parties to the commissions, including Pennsylvania, are not making agreed-upon financial contributions, with the federal government making no payments in nearly a decade.
There was one exception: the state of Delaware has met its financial obligations to the DRBC.
In the 2016-17 fiscal year, Pennsylvania’s support for the SRBC totaled $473,000, an underpayment of $318,250. Pennsylvania’s funding for the DRBC totaled $434,000, which is $459,000 less than the agreed-to amount.
The SRBC’s membership includes Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and the federal government. The DRBC’s members include Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and the federal government.
The audits, authorized by the 2017 state budget (Act 44 of 2017), covered July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017.  
Click Here for a copy of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission audit report.
Click Here for a copy of the Delaware River Basin Commission audit report.
The Delaware River Basin Commission released this statement on the audit results--
“The DRBC thanks Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale and his staff for their professionalism and attention to detail as they completed their charge,” said DRBC Executive Director Steve Tambini.  “The DRBC generally agrees with the report’s findings and recommendations, which reinforce what we already knew: that the expenses of the commission and its officers are reasonable; that while the commission’s work is complementary to that of the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), further opportunities to work collaboratively and efficiently should be explored; and that not all commission members are paying their agreed upon contributions to support DRBC’s budget.”
“Through the commission, the four basin states and the federal government together advance vital water management objectives for the Delaware River Basin that none of them could achieve on their own.  We are always seeking ways to be more efficient and effective, and we look forward to working with the commonwealth and our other state and federal partners to implement the majority of the report’s recommendations,” continued Tambini.
McKelvey: SRBC Cited For Alcohol Spending, Overlapping Projects

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