by Sam Levin
Missouri's new $5.6 million King Air 250 airplane that Governor Jay Nixon regularly uses is not a justified government purchase, according to the state auditor's office which yesterday released a report on the highway patrol.
"The Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) did not perform a formal written analysis to justify the need to purchase an additional airplane, or to purchase a new airplane instead of a much less expensive used airplane," auditor Tom Schweich writes in the report, full document on view below. "Although the State of Missouri already operated 23 aircraft, including 5 passenger airplanes used primarily for employee transportation, the MSHP spent $5.6 million to purchase a new passenger airplane on December 17, 2012."
But Captain Tim Hull, a spokesman for the highway patrol, disputes the audit's conclusion and defends the airplane, telling Daily RFT, "We did conduct a thorough analysis of the needs and usage before we purchased the 2012 King Air."
The audit, which gives the agency an overall "fair" rating -- second to the lowest possible score -- says that the highway patrol should conduct cost-benefit analyses before purchasing new or used airplanes.
The audit says that records show the airplane wasn't necessary to government operations:
According to our analysis of 2012 flight data, before the purchase of this new airplane, a state-owned passenger airplane was always available for use. For the passenger fleet as a whole, there were 113 days on which none of the five airplanes flew, and no days where all five airplanes flew. Of the pressurized airplanes, there were only 58 days on which both of the State's two pressurized airplanes flew, and 159 days on which neither pressurized airplane flew.
The audit from Schweich, who is a Republican, says that an analysis of the demand, usage and fleet availability is needed for these kinds of purchases and that, although it is not legally required, the agency should consider informing the legislature of its intent to "make significant purchases by including them as decision items in its budget."
Indeed some lawmakers criticized the highway patrol for buying the plane back in January, arguing that it was not a good use of state resources and that the agency was trying to circumvent the legislative budget process. Some Republicans went directly after Nixon, a Democrat:
The audit includes the formal response from the highway patrol, which defends the purchase by saying that while the agency did not track instances of when a flight was requested and an airplane was unavailable, the patrol is aware through the "course of doing business that it receives many requests from multiple agencies to conduct flights for state business on the same day and has to deny those requests due to unavailability of an airplane."
The patrol, the response says, also studied the feasibility of purchasing a new plane versus a used one and found the new option was actually the more economically efficient choice long-term.
"It's important to realize that purchasing a used airplane is much different than purchasing a used car," Hull tells Daily RFT.
He mentions several factors that make the new plane the wiser option, including that the cost comes with airplane-specific training for pilots and mechanics and that a used airplane involves an expensive and complex inspection process as well as ongoing training requirements.
Hull notes that an extensive warranty was also part of the purchase.
"It was a very careful consideration...of all aspects," Hull says, later adding, "We expect this particular aircraft...to serve the state of Missouri for twenty plus years."
He also says the patrol had the legal authority to make this purchase and followed the appropriate process, adding, "We'll continue to strive to be transparent with the state legislature."
Here's the full audit (with the highway patrol's full response on page seven):