A legislative panel recommended giving the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency a four-year extension despite an audit that criticized the organization for failing to track equipment and credit card spending.
The General Assembly's Joint Subcommittee on Government Operations voted Tuesday to extend the mandate of the agency that oversees fishing, hunting and boating in Tennessee after deciding the poor administrative controls spotlighted in a state comptroller's report released last week had not led to actual fraud or waste.
Members of the subcommittee generally praised the agency for its management of wildlife. The full General Assembly will take up the subcommittee's recommendation when it reconvenes next spring.
The 40-page audit released last week by the comptroller's office cited the TWRA and its parent agency, the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission, for not fixing long-standing problems related to its management of state equipment and purchasing.
Auditors noted that equipment issued to field agents was not tagged properly and that some items were missing for months or years before they were reported. They also said some purchases broke state regulations and limits, and they said credit cards were not cancelled as soon as workers left the agency.
The comptroller's office said some of the same problems had been brought to the agency's attention during audits in 2007 and 2010.
Ed Carter, the TWRA's executive director, did not dispute the findings. But he said the problems had been administrative in nature and, in many cases, the agency has already taken steps to correct them.
State Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, offered one of the few criticisms of the agency. Citing the audit, Kyle said more than 500 of the agency's 700 employees had been issued purchasing cards, and they spent a total of $13.3 million during the 42-month audit period.
"That seems like an awful lot of purchasing," he said.
But other members of the subcommittee said the TWRA's spending and equipment practices were sensible given the vast territory its agents must cover and odd hours that they work.
"These officers are somewhat unique in that a lot of times they're on their own," said state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville. "When they've got to have an item, there's no procurement process quick enough for them to get that item when they're in the field and they need it."