JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri auditor said April 26 that she’s turning over records to authorities after her office found evidence of conflicts of interests between state agencies and a trucking technology company.
The State Highway Patrol and Missouri Department of Transportation are under scrutiny because officials at the agencies had served on the board of a company that for years received the only state contract to provide technology allowing truckers to bypass Missouri weigh stations.
Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway said findings in the audit show state officials gave preferential treatment to the nonprofit HELP Inc. over its competitor, Drivewyze.
She said the office found potential violations of state conflict-of-interest and financial-reporting laws and turned over documents to the FBI and Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, whose office is investigating.
“What we have here really is a breach of public trust and a clear conflict of interest,” Galloway said.
In responses included in the audit, the agencies said they withdrew members from HELP Inc.’s board, changed the process used for picking contractors and partnered with Drivewyze. The Transportation Department also later found an employee’s related actions warranted discipline and updated internal conflict-of-interest policies.
Missouri contracted with HELP Inc. starting in 2002, when it was the only company that could provide the weigh-station technology.
“HELP Inc. has been assured by the auditor’s office on telephone calls and in writing that HELP is not a subject of the audit. HELP is a non-profit public-private partnership which requires oversight by a board of directors,” HELP Chief Executive Officer Karen Rasmussen told The Trucker. “The HELP board of directors is comprised of both public and private representatives which helps ensure the PrePass program meets the needs of both government and industry. Each state determines its participation in the program, including representation on the board. HELP adheres to a strict conflict of interest policy that is fully compliant with IRS regulations, and has offered to assist Missouri agencies with information if requested.”
Friction started when Drivewyze contracted with the state in 2014 for a pilot program to provide similar services. Emails included in the audit show HELP Inc. and top state officials at both the Highway Patrol and Transportation Department coordinated to promote HELP Inc. as Drivewyze tried to compete for state work.
In one email, Rasmussen forwarded talking points touting the company to then-Maj. Bret Johnson of the Highway Patrol in November 2013. Johnson, who later became colonel, responded that “this issue is not going anywhere if I can help it.” Rasmussen the next day sent Johnson an email with information to use against Drivewyze.
The Highway Patrol canceled the pilot program with Drivewyze in August 2016, primarily citing concerns that the company did not provide weighing data. But the initial agreement between the state and Drivewyze did not allow it to install the equipment needed to gather that data.
Drivewyze President and CEO Brian Heath said since Drivewyze was launched in 2012 the company has had a vision of helping create a safe and efficient commercial vehicle transportation system with zero crashes and zero fatalities.
“Our mission has been to revolutionize the delivery of highway safety and transportation management through world-class products, systems and services,” Heath told The Trucker. This includes our weigh station bypass service, PreClear, which is delivered through public-private partnerships with 46 agencies in 43 states at no cost to state governments. Drivewyze has always believed in partnerships without compromise where our platform is used by state agencies to deliver safety-first weigh station bypass services. Bypass programs are one of the most successful voluntary compliance models in the transportation industry, incentivizing carriers to maintain or improve safety and compliance in exchange for bypass privileges that reduce delays and congestion, and reward drivers who only get paid when the wheels are turning. Drivewyze is built on ethics, trust and transparency. Our program paves the way for future connected truck innovations to improve highway safety and efficiency.
“Despite 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. 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.”
The Highway Patrol backtracked shortly after that, reopening the contract process and later awarding contracts to both companies in April 2017.
Other concerns cited in the audit include work by state officials to promote HELP Inc. to Texas, Kansas and Minnesota and discourage peer agencies from working with Drivewyze and other competitors, failure to publicly report membership on the nonprofit’s board and expenses paid by the company, and a revolving door of state officials who later went to work for HELP Inc. and then continued to work with former co-workers in Missouri government.
Missouri law bans former state staffers from working to influence the agency they worked at for a year after they leave.