Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Privatization Boondoggle - WisDOT wasting money on private engineers

WISC Channel3000 has a story this morning on the costs to Wisconsin taxpayers from using private engineers to perform work formerly done on road project by WisDOT staff engineers.  Much of this work involves review of road plans and supervising construction being done by private road contractors.  Secretary of Transportation Gottlieb responded to WISC for the article.

Money quotes:
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is spending millions of dollars on outside contractors when even state officials admit the work can be done cheaper by state employees.
Declining numbers of state engineers and retirements are bringing the issue of private consultants to the forefront, and the total price tag may come as a surprise for some taxpayers.
In the first four months of this year, it cost taxpayers a total of $13.8 million extra to have private engineering consultants do work on projects rather than state employees, WISC-TV reported.
Gottlieb said the DOT is filling 50 engineer positions but that the department has a vacancy rate of 15 percent and more than 75 retirements this year alone.
"I think our goal is to have ready when the next budget comes around, we'd make a budget submittal for the 2013-2015 budget that we want to have a robust workforce plan that we can take to the governor," Gottlieb said.
"I don't disagree that if we had additional staff, we would be able to deliver a greater percentage of the program than we do now with internal staff, and there are instances where we can do that more cost effectively," said Wisconsin DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb. 
WISC-TV asked Gottlieb why the department is waiting to submit a budget request for more staff.
"It's not a faucet you can turn on and off, and we didn't get to where we are overnight. We're not going to get out of it overnight, but I think we've turned a corner," Gottlieb said.
Ron Becker, an engineer who just retired after 23 years at the DOT, said he fears the retirement of more than 75 senior-level engineers like himself will only make the issue worse.
When the state is throwing money away at an annualized rate of over $50,000,000, you have to ask why the DOT isn't proposing to bring in the "robust work force" in the current budget rather than waiting until the 2013-2015 budget.  Perhaps is it because of a goal to privatize as much of the work that government does as possible?

The other issue that needs to be investigated is whether private engineers are as effective as WisDOT engineers at being tough while supervising the on-site work of road contractors.  Do the private engineers do as good a job holding road-builders accountable for quality work that will hold up under future traffic loads. If they are not, then the comparative costs of hiring a private engineer to do a specific task versus the costs of having an WisDOT state engineer do the same task is probably a drop in the bucket in terms of the total loss to the taxpayers.

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