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California’s $500 Million Overstaffing Scandal

Tuesday June 3rd, 2014   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 8:43am PDT   •  

NewBayBridge_200The new eastern span of the Bay Bridge cost $6.4 billion, $5 billion more than the original estimate, and came in ten years late. Despite the long delay serious safety issues remain. These prompted Caltrans geologist Michael Moore to call for a “criminal investigation,” but that never took place. Instead state senator Mark De Saulnier tapped the California Highway Patrol to conduct an “administrative inquiry” that gave only the appearance of accountability. Now politicians are rewarding the very agency responsible for the cost overruns and safety issues.

As Dan Walters reports in the Sacramento Bee, Governor Jerry Brown’s 2014-15 budget proposals would result in the overstaffing of Caltrans design and construction departments by about 3,500 full-time employees at a cost of more than $500 million. As Walters observes, “That’s $500 million that would be unavailable for actual improvements of a system that has the nation’s worst congestion and its second worst pavement conditions.” And it comes at a time when a declining workload is “not being matched by a declining staff.” But Professional Engineers in California Government, the union representing Caltrans engineers, is adverse to cuts of any kind.

Legislators did cut 195 positions but conveniently added them back to develop a $1 billion “shelf” of projects to be built when money is available. The shelf may not survive, but that still leaves overstaffing of 3,500 positions at a cost of more than $500 million. For government employees the message should be clear.

They can run up $5 billion in cost overruns on a long-delayed bridge with lingering safety concerns. Politicians will profess outrage and hold hearings but resist calls for a criminal inquiry and make only a show of accountability. And in the end they will reward the very state agency responsible for the waste and unaccountability. Nice deal for California’s ruling class but bad deal for California taxpayers.

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June 2014