Administration won't release state fleet study

Administration won't release state fleet study

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SPRINGFIELD - The Blagojevich administration is claiming that a study of the state's fleet of cars ordered more than three years ago has generated millions of dollars in savings.

But, officials won't release the results of the study, which was conducted by a company that has contributed thousands of dollars to the governor's campaign fund.

As the state embarks on a plan to begin its first large-scale replacement of vehicles since the governor took office, the fact that the study isn't being made public is drawing fire from some lawmakers.

"I think if they don't respond to these inquiries on how they spend our state dollars, there's something amiss," said state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock. "They should have to respond. I don't think their objection is valid."

In May, Lee News Service requested a copy of the study, which was called for by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in one of his first acts after taking office in 2003.

The request, made using the state's Freedom of Information Act, was denied in June.

The administration says it cannot release the study because it is exempt from state open records laws.

"It's in draft format," explained Justin DeJong, spokesman for the governor's Department of Central Management Services, which oversees state purchasing. "It's a policy document. Some things were implemented. Some things were not."

But, DeJong said the state's fleet of 13,000 vehicles has been reduced by 1,600 cars, resulting in a savings estimated at more than $5.3 million over the past two fiscal years.

"There were a lot of vehicles that were individually assigned, that were underused," DeJong said. "The agency went through a very comprehensive review of what vehicles were needed, which vehicles were not."

In addition, DeJong said the state has generated $1.1 million from selling unneeded vehicles.

The secret blueprint for reducing the fleet was created by a company that has contributed $25,500 to the governor's campaign fund.

Virginia-based Maximus Inc., which has contracts with more than a dozen state agencies, recently won a one-year, $60,000 no-bid extension of its contract to provide software that tracks maintenance of the state vehicles.

Since 2003, the company has held contracts with the state worth more than $22 million.

State records show the fleet management contract with Maximus was not competitively bid because the firm provided customized software that is proprietary to the company.

Franks, chairman of the House State Government Administration Committee, said the administration should release the results of the study.

"They've never shared it at all with us," said Franks. "Let's see the plan."

Maximus' contributions to Blagojevich's campaign fund are troublesome, say observers.

"Even if it's just the appearance of a conflict of interest, it really breeds cynicism," said Kent Redfield, a University of Illinois-Springfield political science professor. "People question the legitimacy and the fairness of government."

"The governor should not accept contributions from companies that are given no-bid state contracts," added state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington. "This is just another sign Gov. Blagojevich continues play pay-to play politics."

In July, the state is expected to begin replacing up to 500 state police cars, marking the first major purchase of vehicles since Blagojevich took office.

The new vehicles, which are estimated to cost a total of about $8 million, are replacing old, high-mileage cruisers and won't add to the state's overall inventory, said DeJong.

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