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Thursday July 6th, 2017   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 3:17pm PDT   •  

Two years ago, California’s Legislative Analyst learned that 3,500 Caltrans engineers were doing little more than sitting at their desks and sought to eliminate those positions. Caltrans bosses cried foul and so did Bruce Blanning, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government. As the union boss told reporters the Legislative Analyst was “childish,” that idle staff should be kept on in case of future projects, and that outsourcing work to independent contractors “wastes taxpayer money.”

In response to the LAO report, state senator John Moorlach wrote a bill to require Caltrans to contract out 50 percent of architectural and engineering services. As Moorlach recently explained, the engineers’ union killed that bill and now wants to add 400-500 new positions in the next fiscal year. If those were contracted out, according to a study for the for the American Council of Engineering Companies, that would save state taxpayers $43.4 million a year. That got a rise out of Bruce Blanning, who charged that Moorlach “cited phony figures – ginned up from the same private companies that want to gorge themselves on tax dollars – to try to justify his false assertion that it would be cheaper for taxpayers.”

Blanning did not show how, exactly, the figures Moorlach cited were “phony,” but he did contend that California has nearly 1,000 engineers on contract doing work that “Caltrans employees can perform at half the cost.” Giving the work to Caltrans employees, the union boss argued, would save $100 million in one year. “Let’s not waste public money by overpaying private companies,” Blanning concluded. “California is best served when a publicly employed professional engineer designs and inspects infrastructure projects.” And doubtless when more than 3,000 government engineers sit at their desks doing nothing, or when they play golf during work hours.

As the state auditor noted, for 19 months, one Caltrans engineer played dozens of rounds of golf during work hours, with Caltrans bosses duly approving his time sheets. Maybe Blanning can identify the lucky government golfer, and show how his game best served the state. The union boss did not indicate which infrastructure project he might have personally designed or inspected. Taxpayers might recall that Caltrans engineers supervised the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge which cost $5 billion more than the original estimate, came in ten years late, and remains riddled with safety issues.

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July 2017