Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Controversial PennDOT unit still hasn't been disbanded

Controversial PennDOT unit still hasn't been disbanded



Back in May, Gov. Rendell told reporters that he had no idea his transportation department had a 35-person unit that dealt exclusively with legislators' requests until he read about it in a scathing grand jury report on legislative corruption and waste.

But Rendell vowed to disband it.

Two months later, the unit is still functioning, Capitolwire reported this morning.

The "constituent services" unit within the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is part of a network of state employees whose only jobs are to get drivers' licenses, renew motor vehicle registrations, obtain license plates, and do other routine paperwork for businesses and residents who do not want to do it themselves, the grand jury report said.

And 35 state workers in PennDOT are "dedicated to handling nothing other than the paperwork received from the elected members of the General Assembly," the report states. "Not surprisingly, nothing about the work performed by this unit within PennDOT suggests that there is any need for state legislators to serve as intermediaries between their constituents and PennDOT."

Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma said the special unit will still be disbanded  -- and "soon" -- and its employees reassigned to other jobs. But, Tuma said, "we will try to preserve some of [the unit's] functions within PennDOT." The details are still being worked out, but that could mean that a few employees will likely still be accepting requests from lawmakers.

But Tuma was quick to point out that only select cases will be handled that involve problems that constituents can't resolve themselves.

The grand jury report found that car dealers, paving companies, bakeries, and other businesses had been taking advantage of the free service PennDOT's special unit provided.

The unit's purpose, the grand jury reasoned, could only be political: It would "engender good will between the elected member and his constituents, thereby increasing the chance that said constituents would vote for that elected member ...This is precisely the type of politically motivated activity that the public should not be forced to fund."

The grand jury said that the Internet and other technological advances had made it easier than ever for residents to handle their dealings with PennDot and that they do not need state legislators to do it for them.


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Commonwealth Confidential gives you regularly updated coverage of the state legislature, the governor and the workings of the state bureaucracy. It is written by Angela Couloumbis in the Inquirer's Harrisburg bureau, based in the statehouse, and by the newspaper's far-flung campaign reporters.

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