Missouri audit reveals conflicts of interest between state employees and PrePass company

May 1, 2018

Tyson Fisher

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Some employees of the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri Highway Patrol are under fire after the state auditor discovered “significant conflicts of interest” with PrePass’ company HELP Inc. As a result, HELP was found to receive preferential treatment over Drivewyze, a competing company.

On April 26, State Auditor Nicole Galloway published a report that highlighted some major conflicts of interest with state employees who were responsible for Missouri’s weigh-in-motion contracts. The report comes a year after media reports revealed associations with Missouri Highway and Transportation Commissioners volunteer board members and HELP.

Over the past 15 years, HELP has been contracted by Missouri to offer its services to trucking companies. An audit revealed that several MoDOT and highway patrol employees sat on the board for HELP, raising questions about their personal motives and incentives in rewarding the contract to HELP.

According to a Missouri state auditor news release, Missouri employees tried to influence contracts in Texas, Kansas and Minnesota by rallying behind HELP while at the same time not showing support for competing companies.

The audit discovered that three Missouri employees began working for HELP less than a year after leaving their job with the state. Missouri state law requires former state employees to wait at least a year after leaving state employment before performing any paid service in which they would attempt to influence decisions of an agency where they had supervisory duties, according to the news release.

Three state employees also failed to disclose expenses paid to them on their personal financial disclosures required by the Missouri Ethics Commission. Expenses include HELP membership costs ranging from $7,500 to $15,000 per year.

“This report outlines years of improper communications and actions that led to one vendor being unfairly favored over another,” Galloway said in a statement. “Just as concerning is the appearance that these allegations were not taken seriously by state officials until much later as our work was bringing the details to light.”

Among the HELP board membership:

  • Col. Bret Johnson (Missouri State Highway Patrol)
  • Capt. David Earney (Missouri State Highway Patrol)
  • Jan Skouby (former MoDOT director of the motor carrier services division)
  • Scott Marion (current MoDOT director of the motor carrier services division)
  • Tom Crawford (Missouri Trucking Association)

Drivewyze was affected by the conflicts of interest. According to the report, neither MoDOT nor the highway patrol conducted a request for proposal when Drivewyze wanted to participate in the preclearance and bypass program in 2013.

In August 2014, the state highway patrol entered into a memorandum of understanding to begin a pilot project to test Drivewyze’s capabilities. However, the memorandum did not require Drivewyze to have access to weigh-in-motion data. Furthermore, the memorandum prohibited Drivewyze from installing its own sensors.

These omissions were significant as the highway patrol was aware of issues that revolved around HELP owning that data. In other states where both HELP and Drivewyze operate, data is owned by the state, who in turn provides it to the vendors.

In Missouri, HELP owns all installed weigh-in-motion equipment and owns all recorded raw data obtained from that equipment. Missouri is the only state that allows such a system, since other states typically own the equipment and data. By HELP preserving ownership of equipment of data, competitors are essentially blocked from using what is needed to operate in the state.

Drivewyze’s pilot program was cancelled in May 2016. However, in October 2016, MoDOT determined through sufficient evidence and concerns over conflicts of interest that Drivewyze could operate the same service as HELP. In February 2017, Missouri issued a request for proposal for a commercial motor vehicle electronic preclearance and bypass system for Drivewyze. Contracts for HELP and Drivewyze were executed earlier this year.

“Despite Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway’s report, which raises serious legal concerns about the activities of those who interfered and colluded to favor HELP Inc.’s position in Missouri, Drivewyze today enjoys a strong and successful partnership with both the Missouri Department of Transportation and Missouri State Highway Patrol,” Drivewyze CEO Brian Heath said in a statement. “These respected organizations share the same vision we have toward a safe and efficient transportation system. We look forward to announcing the activation of our first sites and restoring bypass services in Missouri for our customers in the coming weeks.”

Transportation contracts in Missouri are relatively significant. Missouri has the nation’s seventh largest highway system, according to the auditor’s report.

In January 2017, state Rep. T.J. Berry, R-Kearney, introduced HB306, which would have regulated the weigh-in-motion process in Missouri. The bill would have required all weigh-in-motion data to be considered public record. More importantly, the bill also prohibited any state employee from being involved with any weigh-in-motion service. The bill was defeated 82-62 on April 20, 2017.

W.W. Williams

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.