Public Sector Fleet Management Stricter Enforcement Needed of Take-Home Vehicles
Take-home vehicles have been controversial for years, but recently, they have come under even closer scrutiny at a number of jurisdictions. For instance, Rockland County in New York clamped down on the number of government employees assigned take-home county-owned vehicles. For years, department heads could determine who got to commute to work in a county vehicle. Under the new policy, Fleet Manager Kenneth Voorhis and County Executive C. Scott Vandehoef approve take-home vehicles on a case-by-case basis.
Similarly, Suffolk County in New York has cut the number of county vehicles that workers can take home by nearly 40 percent. In 2005, 279 of the 726 take-home vehicles were reassigned for general use. In the police department alone, 137 sedans were reassigned. County Executive Steve Levy says he is fulfilling a campaign pledge to reduce vehicles handed out as “political perks.”
In another recent backlash, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority decided to reduce the number of personnel assigned take-home vehicles by 63 percent. Likewise, Yonkers, N.Y., slashed the number of take-home vehicles from 231 to 145 following a newspaper investigation, and Westchester County in N.Y. limited take-home vehicles to only 178 employees.
Consequences of Abuse of Take-Home Vehicles
One reason for the increased scrutiny is that take-home vehicle assignments are often inconsistent with established policies and procedures. Agency justifications for take-home vehicle assignments are sometimes weak or in extreme cases fraudulent. Often officials do not know how many employees are allowed to take home government vehicles. Fleet operations is sometimes not informed about take-home vehicle assignments even though it may be responsible for approving, monitoring, and reporting on take-home vehicles. Even if informed, fleet operations may approve take-home vehicle assignments based upon inaccurate in-formation about the purpose and use of the vehicles. While many agencies voluntarily comply with the take-home vehicle policies, other agencies skirt the edges of compliance. One reason why some fleet operations have difficulty gaining agency compliance with reporting requirements is because, in many instances, no infraction enforcement mechanisms are defined in the code or the administrative policies for take-home vehicles.
In addition, misuse of a vehicle take-home program will result in non-compliance with federal tax requirements. Fringe benefits, such as the use of a vehicle for commuting purposes or medical benefits, are considered a form of pay, so the fair market value of such benefits must be included in the employee’s wages unless specifically excluded by federal tax rules. Also, the fair market value of fuel and parking is taxable if a fleet fuel credit card and a parking space is provided to employees with unauthorized take-home vehicles.
Pros and Cons of Take-Home Vehicles
The most vocal proponents for take-home vehicles are typically police departments. One justification for “take-home” policies is lower maintenance costs and increased accountability. Many police vehicles are “hot-seated.” The police believe that if one person drives one car, you would get longer life out of that car than a swap-out. One officer takes ownership of the vehicle, instead of three different drivers on eight-hour shifts using the same vehicle around the clock, which accelerates vehicle wear and tear. By not hot-seating vehicles, an officer can’t shift the blame for vehicle abuse or accident damage to someone else by saying it occurred during an earlier shift.
Another benefit is that officers who are on-call while at home are ready to roll at almost a moment’s notice, providing better call response. When an officer takes a car home – whether on or off duty – there is a police car in the driveway of that neighborhood, which acts as a crime deterrent. Also, investigators in the district attorney’s office often have to look for witnesses off-hours and would waste time if they had to pick up a county vehicle. Proponents say take-home vehicles are an employee benefit that enhances morale, which can be used as a recruiting tool.
The reasons against take-home assignments are the expense of acquiring additional vehicles so that one vehicle is assigned per officer and the increased liability exposure during off-duty usage.
Stricter Enforcement is Needed to End the Abuse
Misuse of vehicle take-home assignments reflects unfairly on fleet operations. If we ever wish to curb this abuse, officials need to enact stricter enforcement mechanisms that discontinue vehicle take-home assignments with inadequate justification, infrequent requests for emergency call-outs while off-duty, or if there is available alternate shift coverage. If infractions or abuse occurs, then the agency department head should be held accountable.
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