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The Road to Waste, Fraud and Abuse

Wednesday March 23rd, 2016   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 5:31am PDT   •  

roadrepair_MLThis column tracks government waste, fraud and abuse, and on rare occasions, so does government itself. For example, a new report from California State Auditor Elaine Howle finds that “Caltrans’ weak cost controls over field maintenance work orders create opportunities for fraud, waste, and abuse.” Caltrans division of maintenance, the report says, “paid $250,000 for development of a budget model for allocating field maintenance funding based on key indicators of maintenance need, however it abandoned it.” As the report notes, the model cited the need to “reduce more than 100 staff positions” in Los Angeles and “instead of trying to determine why the model produced such allocations, the maintenance division decided to abandon it.” It was all about protecting bureaucratic jobs. So how did Caltrans decide to spend the maintenance money?

“Instead of distributing money based on need,” explains Tony Bizjak in the Sacramento Bee, “field maintenance officials have been doing it based on each area’s previous spending patterns.” So it was all about spending money in a way that kept the cash flowing, not spending in a way that best addressed the actual needs, which are considerable. As we noted, many California roads are an obstacle course of potholes and the repair backlog is an estimated $78 billion for local roads and $59 billion for state highways.

“To prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse and to ensure costs are appropriate,” the State Auditor urges stronger controls over worker order costs, better review, and more documentation. The prospects for reform, however, are open to reasonable doubt. After all, Caltrans managed construction of the new span of the Bay Bridge, ten years late and $5 billion over budget. As a state senator, Mark DeSaulnier held hearings on the bridge’s construction and safety issues but ignored a whistleblower’s call for a criminal investigation. Now a congressman, DeSaulnier is on record that “it’s frustrating that there’s never been anyone in the management of the bridge who has been held accountable.” Taxpayers might remember that when government claims concern over waste, fraud and abuse.

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March 2016