State Audit Finds Critical Problems With Colorado Department of Transportation’s Budget

<p>CPR News Photo</p>
<p>Traffic on I-25 in downtown Denver. </p>
Photo: Interstate 25 I-25 Traffic Denver 20190610
Traffic on I-25 in downtown Denver. 

Colorado’s Department of Transportation has significant budgeting problems, according to a state audit released Monday.

The audit found problems with the “completeness and transparency” of CDOT’s budget, which totaled $1.56 billion in the 2017 fiscal year. Key points from the audit include:

  • The agency lacked processes to detect and prevent employee fraud. The auditor’s analysis found “suspicious patterns and anomalies,” but did not identify any specific instances of fraud.

  • CDOT’s fiscal year 2017 budget plan did not include all legally required information, such as more than $1 billion that carried forward from prior years. That made it difficult for auditors to check CDOT’s budget against how it actually spent its money. In fact, the department spent $582.7 million more that year than was approved. “Incomplete information reduces the effectiveness of the budget plan as a management tool and decreases transparency and accountability of the department’s budget,” the auditor wrote.

  • CDOT does not close construction projects in a timely fashion, meaning unused money isn’t made available for other projects. “The department is not maximizing its available funding,” the audit states.

CDOT staff and the transportation commission, a governor-appointed body that oversees the department, agreed with the auditor’s recommendations and promised to implement them by the end of the year.

“Our internal budget processes should be easier to understand for the public and for stakeholders,” said Jeff Sudmeier, CDOT’s chief financial officer.

Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Colorado Springs Republican who sits on the Legislative Audit Committee, said it’s imperative that the department get its house in order — especially given that voters have been asked to raise taxes on themselves for transportation projects in the past, and will likely be asked again.

“We want the people to be confident in what we're choosing to do as policy makers,” he said. “Well, in order to build that confidence, we've got to do it right. And in this particular instance, the call for more transparent, more timely information, for better policy making was heard, was answered in the affirmative.”

Lundeen noted that the audit’s data is two years old, and that CDOT is now under new leadership. He’s hopeful that Shoshana Lew, whom Gov. Jared Polis appointed executive director in December 2018, will help bring change to the department.