News Column

Caltrans Watchdog Bills Make Headway

April 10, 2013

Legislation aimed at making Caltrans more transparent was approved by the California Senate Governmental Organization Committee on Tuesday.

Senate bills 425 and 486, authored by Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, would create a new office charged with investigating Caltrans' activities and set rules for peer review on public works projects.

"We have to change the culture at Caltrans, especially when it comes to reviewing major public works projects," DeSaulnier said in a prepared release. "We cannot have an agency reporting its investigations to itself and expect to get fully transparent results."

Caltrans has come under fire on several fronts, including revelations that two inspectors falsified test data on 11 transportation projects and claimed overtime they never worked.

The large state agency, with more than 20,000 employees, has also been criticized for its choice of outside experts tapped to review major projects such as the new $6.4 billion Bay Bridge.

DeSaulnier's legislation mandates that megaprojects of $1 billion or more utilize peer review panels and establishes conflict of interest rules for its members. It must be approved by both legislative houses and Gov. Jerry Brown.

Reporting directly to the California Transportation Commission, the new Office of Legal Compliance and Ethics would investigate allegations of misconduct within Caltrans and report findings to lawmakers. Operating funds would come from Caltrans' existing audits and investigations division budget.

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(c)2013 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: Copyright Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, CA) 2013


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