Waste, Fraud, & Mismanagement

Pet Lover’s License Plate Program Is Dogged by Mismanagement, Auditor Finds

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The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is mismanaging the “Pet Lover’s” specialized license plate program so badly that the program is at risk of failure, the state auditor reported March 26.

Sales of the license plates generate funds for subsidizing free or low-cost animal sterilization services through grants to eligible entities. From 2013 to 2017, the Veterinary Medical Board was responsible for managing the program, but the Legislature and governor transferred oversight responsibility to the CDFA beginning January 1, 2018. This responsibility includes promoting and marketing the program, soliciting grant applications, verifying grant applicant eligibility and awarding grants.

“Our audit revealed evidence of poor management of this program that threatens its success,” the auditor said.

The auditor found that the CDFA “used a significantly flawed selection process in awarding $330,000 to grant applicants.” The auditor continued: “Food and Agriculture failed to verify grant applicants’ eligibility before making award decisions, resulting in two awards to ineligible entities worth a total of $35,000. Further, Food and Agriculture’s process for evaluating grant applications resulted in questionable scores and award decisions. Instead of ensuring that multiple technical reviewers had scored each application, Food and Agriculture relied entirely on the score of a single reviewer for each application when making its award decisions. Because one reviewer consistently scored applications lower than the other reviewers did, and Food and Agriculture did not always select the highest-scoring grant applications for grant awards, Food and Agriculture’s process disadvantaged certain applicants.”

Revenue from the license plates has declined since 2015-16, and beginning in 2018-19, expenditures exceeded revenue.

“Despite this decline, Food and Agriculture’s outreach and marketing of the program since January 2018, when it began overseeing the program, have been minimal,” the auditor reported. “Unlike specialized license plate programs that other state agencies administer, Food and Agriculture has not contracted with outside agencies to perform marketing, has not advertised on social media, and has not required grant recipients to use or display promotional items.”