The politics of the VDOT audit

An audit should be, well, an audit – a review of facts and figures with a bottom line assessment.

When an audit is not an audit – when it involves the great political football in Virginia politics.

“We must demand better stewardship and utilization of existing funds. That is why I ordered this comprehensive performance and financial audit shortly after I took office, and why the findings are so important,” said Gov. Bob McDonnell, releasing on Thursday the details of the private audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation that found as its bottom-line conclusion that available transportation funding has been not been effectively used.

Which, of course, conveniently fits into the political argument of Republicans who have been saying for years that the problem with transportation funding in Virginia isn’t that there hasn’t been enough money for transportation improvements, but rather the efficiency of operations at VDOT.

“Money has been sitting in the state’s wallet while Virginian’s have been sitting in traffic,” McDonnell soundbited. “We will move immediately to put this funding to work building roads and reducing congestion statewide. VDOT will award $800 to $900 million in contracts by December 31st, and we will get long overdue construction underway. We will not tolerate inefficiency or mismanagement at VDOT or any other state agency.”

Not so fast, says Senate Democratic Majority Leader Dick Saslaw.

“While no one wants to see funds lying unused, I appreciate that the VDOT management employed a cautious approach during a period of great financial uncertainty and did not overobligate funds, as we saw under the Gilmore administration,” Saslaw countered in a statement on Thursday’s audit.

A 2005 resolution passed by the General Assembly with the support of then-state delegate Bob McDonnell required that adequate fund balances be accrued to projects prior to the authorization of contracts to prevent the abuses seen under the Allen and Gilmore administrations, Saslaw said.

“Until my colleagues and I learn more about the details in the audit, I am hesitant to affirm that there are in fact substantial new dollars for transportation,” Saslaw said.

“While I would be pleased to see additional projects go forward, we must understand that these are largely one-time resources. This audit demonstrates that the Commonwealth has yet to face the fact that it lacks a comprehensive long-term plan for solving its transportation problem,” Saslaw said.

Reporting by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at

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