By Mike Luery
A critical audit today reveals the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), is millions of dollars over budget on construction projects.
The average cost overrun was more than a million dollars on some projects, according to the audit, which also found little in the way of internal controls at Caltrans to put the brakes on wasteful spending.
Six out of every ten construction projects by Caltrans had cost overruns, State Auditor Elaine Howle noted. “They were over budget. And in many cases it was 25, 30%,” she told CBS 13.”
The biggest budget buster the auditor found was salary increases of up to 40% for Caltrans engineers – and Caltrans employees charging time for projects to which they were not even assigned.
“Caltrans doesn’t know exactly who is working on a particular project and whether or not the individual is charging time for that project,” Howle told CBS 13.
So what does Caltrans have to say about the critical report from the state auditor? We asked Caltrans to respond, but no one would agree to be interviewed on camera for this report.
However, Caltrans did issue this statement to CBS 13:
“Caltrans is pleased that the audit shows that the department’s project delivery staffing levels and structure, budget requests, and costs including travel are reasonable given the 2,000 projects worth $45 billion in the construction pipeline. Over the last five years, Caltrans has placed an added emphasis on budgeting and monitoring our support costs more accurately. This has resulted in greater transparency and accountability of Caltrans’ costs and allows the department to better plan for future transportation projects. Caltrans will continue to implement the recommendations in the audit and refine how projects are budgeted and staffed to ensure we deliver them as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.”
Caltrans Public Affairs
The report also brought a response on behalf of state engineers.
“I thought the report focused on something that’s perhaps important,” said Bruce Blanning, Executive Director of the Professional Engineers in California Government.
Blanning added, “But not as important as getting the job done. Caltrans has delivered 1391 out of 1394 projects on time over the last five years and that’s what really matters.”
But to the state auditor, what really matters is that Caltrans is lacking strong internal controls.
“They’re not doing a very good job of protecting taxpayer dollars,” Howle told CBS 13.