The State of Your Money: Investigation is paying off


Bob Segall/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - Throughout 2009, WTHR's "State of Your Money" investigations exposed questionable spending throughout Indiana state government.

The series got the state's attention, and it has also gotten results: savings worth millions of dollars.

In recent years, the state has spent more than $8.5 million on new office furniture. Before buying that furniture, state agencies are first supposed to consider cheaper alternatives such as buying furniture from the state's own furniture factory at the Pendleton Correctional Facility or securing used furniture from Indiana's Surplus Warehouse at no cost. 13 Investigates found many instances in which those alternatives were never considered.

Since that investigation, state government has purchased very little furniture, according to Indiana's Deputy Commissioner of Procurement, Rob Wynkoop. And the state's budget director recently sent a memo to all state agency heads stating "Agencies should eliminate furniture purchases, except where absolutely necessary."

Scrutinized very closely

"Anything that is not essential is being scrutinized very closely," explained Mark Everson, Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Administration. He says the state has also seen a drastic reduction in travel expenses.

That comes after 13 Investigates showed workers at Indiana's Public Employee Retirement Fund taking business trips to exotic destinations all over the world, often staying at luxurious 5-star resorts and spas that cost more than $600 per night.

Since WTHR began that investigation, PERF estimates its out-of-state travel costs have dropped to less than $100,000 - about half of what PERF spent on out-of-state travel last year.

And other government agencies did the same thing as part of a state-wide effort to cut costs.

"Overall our state travel is down well over 50% from a year ago," said Everson, who reviews all agency requests for out-of-state travel. "Areas like furniture or out-of-state travel, non-essential items, that's the first place you look to cut."

No more chip clips

And what about all those pencils, mugs, tote bags, key chains, potato chip clips and paper weights the state has been giving out?

13 Investigates discovered state agencies had spent more than a million dollars on promotional trinkets in the past two years.

The state hasn't been buying anymore chip clips.

Just two weeks after Eyewitness News began investigating state agencies' promotional expenses, the governor's office set up new restrictions. Now, all state agencies must submit their promotional requests to a special budget committee for review, and most requests are being rejected.

The Indiana Department of Transportation, for example, asked to spend $19,000 for pens, wristbands, coffee mugs, bumper stickers and logo shirts. The committee denied all of it.

Marijuana air fresheners?!?

Indiana State Police wanted to spend about $20,000 in its fight against marijuana. The requested money would be used to buy embroidered jackets, magnets and marijuana eradication air fresheners. (Yes, air fresheners that, according to ISP, would help law enforcement eradicate marijuana!) All of those items were denied, too.

Many of the requests would have used federal grants and tax dollars – not state funds – to cover the expenses. The state put a halt to them anyway.

A spokeswoman from the governor's office explained: "The notion is that it doesn't matter if it's federal or state money. If it's not a good use of the funds and there's a better way to support the program, it won't be approved."

So far, the state budget office has rejected about $400,000 worth of promotional expenses since WTHR's investigation.

"We're following the governor's mandate to run the state in a more business-like basis," said Everson. "We're not perfect, but are we continuing to improve? Absolutely. Have we made great progress already? That's for sure."

Related stories:

The State of Your Money: Sitting on Tax Dollars

The State of Your Money: Luxury resorts considered "essential"

The State of Your Money: Taxpayer Trinkets