The State of Illinois spent $46 million to maintain a fleet of nearly 14,000 state-owned vehicles in the last budget year, including $5.9 million on gasoline and oil.

In an effort to curb those costs, the state is turning to the private sector, hoping a consultant can trim the auto budget by at least $3.6 million in the next two years.

"We're trying to get Illinois state government at absolutely the same sort of standards in the most well run business organizations throughout the country," said Pam Davies, spokesperson for Central Management Services, which oversees the state fleet. That means examining everything from oil changes and repairs to which workers need to drive a state car.

Davies said when her boss, CMS director Michael Rumman took over this year, he immediately saw potential for abuse.

"He heard countless accounts of individuals who saw state vehicles, vehicles that they knew were driven by state employees, and they would see things like child car seats in the back of the car, which means that person was not using that car for its intended purpose," Davies said.

Auditioning private firms to examine the state fleet follows a budget-cutting move Gov. Rod Blagojevich initiated shortly after taking office in January. He instructed CMS to hold off on any new vehicle purchases and order all other state agencies to conduct a review of cars used by their employees.

In August, the governor said the state had identified 1,000 excess vehicles it would auction, with the hope of selling at least another 500 vehicles by next summer. Overall, the moves are expected to save the state about $6 million, while generating $2 million from the auctions.

In addition to the $3.6 million savings targeted for the next two years, the consultant selected also will be looking to shave additional costs through the middle of 2007.