Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Caltrans audit has legislators crying ‘fore’

For decades an axiom for business is that deals get done while playing golf. However, a California state auditor’s report shows that business can also be neglected at the golf course while on the taxpayer’s dime.

California state lawmakers are playing a game of beat the clock on transportation funding. They have until mid-September to reach agreement on a plan to address some of the $59 billion in state transportation needs over the next decade.

All options are said to be on the table as the Democratic majority is pursuing plans to raise about $4.3 billion annually for infrastructure largely through higher fuel taxes. Meanwhile, their Republican counterparts are advocating for reform measures before more costs are applied to taxpayers.

As discussions continue, the state auditor has released the findings of an audit of the California Department of Transportation. The finding is right in the wheelhouse of those demanding accountability at Caltrans before signing off for any tax and/or fee increases.

The audit released last week shows that Caltrans approved the times sheets of an engineer who played golf for 55 workdays over a 19-month period that ended in spring 2014.

According to the auditor’s report, “a senior transportation engineer for Caltrans neglected his duty to ensure that a subordinate engineer’s time sheets were accurate.”

“Although the subordinate’s time sheets indicated that he worked the day shift from August 2012 through March 2014, he actually was playing golf for part of 55 workdays during those months,” the audit states.

Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, is among the lawmakers referring to the finding as another example of desperately needed reform at Caltrans.

“How can we ask Californians to pay more for road repair without fixing Caltrans?” Moorlach said in prepared remarks. “We have no confidence that Caltrans is spending money properly. None.”

The audit comes on the heels of a report by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office, which found Caltrans to be overstaffed by 3,300 employees. The cost to taxpayers was put at $500 million per year.

“When you’re overstaffed by 3,300 employees, I guess the only thing you can do is play golf,” Moorlach stated.

The LAO also found that Caltrans lacked basic accounting systems and relied on bad data for their budgeting processes.

As lawmakers try to wrap their heads around the latest black eye for Caltrans, one bill awaiting consideration on the Senate floor would set up an independent oversight agency to reform the department.

The deadline for lawmakers to reach a deal on transportation funding is Sept. 11.