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Comptroller's report shows budget problems at TBI

Nathan Baker • Jan 16, 2018 at 10:54 PM

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spent more than it was budgeted in the past four years and has been relying on dwindling reserve funds to continue its operations, the state comptroller’s office reported Tuesday.

The special report presented by Comptroller Justin P. Wilson to legislators on the state Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee showed the budgeting problems and found issues with TBI’s policies governing the use of its $8 million aircraft, failures to collect sex offender registration fees and inaccuracies with the drug offender registry.

Legislators asked the comptroller to look into the agency’s finances in the spring, when it approved the state’s budget, including an $8 million appropriation for the TBI to buy a single-engine plane it had been leasing for two years for transportation and surveillance.

Claiming weaknesses in the TBI’s budget and accounting processes could impact its administrative and program operations, Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, chair of the Finance, Ways & Means Committee, asked Wilson to dive into the agency’s budgeting processes and its organization, including “determining who has oversight of the agency and who they must answer to when mistakes are made with funding.”

Starting in 2014, the audit found the TBI exceeded its estimated budget and used reserve funds to compensate for state-mandated budget cuts and increased costs.

“TBI, in essence, annually expects to operate at a budget shortfall with its reserve accounts filling the gap between revenues and expenditures,” the report states. “Specifically, the bureau uses its reserve funds to avoid layoffs and operation gaps while still meeting budget reduction and reversion targets mandated by (Finance and Administration) and the Governor.”

Because of the yearly shortfalls, the comptroller found the agency’s reserve funds, which receive revenues from expungement fees, drug testing, firearm background checks and intoxicant testing, were greatly diminished.

The handgun permit fund, which receives revenues from handgun carry permit applicants, but is restricted in what it can be spent on, dropped in 2014 from $6.2 million to $300,000 when the state swept most of the funds into the state’s general fund. The bureau planned to use the money in that fund to replace its automated fingerprinting identification system, a statutorily required system, but will now have to ask for state appropriations when the system needs to be updated.

On the plane, a PC-12NG, the comptroller said the audit found the TBI needs to improve its aircraft use policy and maintain proper records for all flights, but did not find any evidence the aircraft was used by the agency’s director for personal flights, a broad allegation lodged before the auditors began their review.

In the audit report, the TBI acknowledges some of its flight logs were lacking information because of time-sensitive requests to use the plane by bureau staff or other agencies. It also said some of the logs contained sensitive information that was redacted before it was released to auditors. According to the comptroller’s office, some TBI records are not open to members of the public, but auditors are allowed to access them.

Auditors also found errors in the collection of sex offender registration fees that cost the bureau an estimated $419,400, because of deficiencies in the way agencies report new registrants to the system.

Also in the report were mistakes made by court clerks when reporting drug convictions to the TBI to include those convicted in a statewide drug offender registry to prevent them from buying ingredients for methamphetamine.

According to the audit, some court clerks did not submit any convictions in some years. The Davidson County Court Clerk’s office refused to submit any judgments for inclusion.

Others, like Washington County’s clerk in March 2014, submitted convictions later than the 45 days required by state law. According to the report, the Washington County clerk said she did not know why the judgment was submitted late, but said it may have been an oversight because of staff changes.

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