Transportation

The search for savings in the state Department of Transportation budget should be oversee by someone independent of the agency.

M.P. KING, STATE JOURNAL

A release issued in September announced a new Wisconsin Department of Transportation inspector general position, and it seemed to be a good thing.

“At Gov. Scott Walker’s direction, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) will create an Office of Inspector General position with a primary role in the Department to review all programs and initiatives for inefficiencies, waste, fraud and abuse,” the release stated.

“The primary role of the inspector general is to review WisDOT policy and practices looking for cost savings and efficiencies, then to make recommendations for implementing policy and program improvements.”

Unfortunately, a report from the Wisconsin State Journal last month detailed that it’s not all roses.

The “new watchdog will report to the chief of the agency for which he or she will provide oversight, raising questions about whether the inspector could face a conflict of interest or be limited in the scope of investigations,” the State Journal report stated.

As Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, stated: “You have a little bit of a fox guarding the hen house.”

Earlier this year, the Legislative Audit Bureau concluded the cost of major road projects in the state from 2006 to 2015 was double the costs that were originally estimated — costing $1.5 billion to build 19 major projects which was $772.5 million higher than the estimates.

The bureau report said the DOT did not take into account the considerable effect that inflation and changes to project design would have on those costs over time.

The January audit also said 16 projects that were ongoing as of last August faced similar cost jumps and instead of costing an estimated $2.7 billion, the final bills were estimated to come in at $5.8 billion.

Those numbers are unacceptable, and Walker was right to create the inspector general position to review programs and look for cost savings. Something needs to be done.

Unfortunately, the governor’s plan failed in one regard.

It doesn’t make sense for the inspector general to be reporting directly to the secretary of the department. An outside agency would be able to be more objective.

The State Journal reported that when Sanfelippo and Sen. David Craig, R-Big Bend, introduced a bill earlier this year to create a DOT inspector general, there was a key difference between their bill and Walker’s order.

Their bill would have had the inspector report to the Legislative Audit Bureau instead of the DOT secretary.

“It seems hard for a subordinate to be in the role of whistle-blower or raising flags occurring within the department,” said Craig Thompson, director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, an alliance of businesses, labor, local government and other groups, said in the State Journal article.

We agree. The roads are too important of an issue and too expensive for problems to be ignored.

Our state needs this new position, (but) there needs to be a proper reporting structure to ensure no issues go unaddressed and no efficiencies are missed.

At the very least, if the structure is not changed, members of the Legislature should ask for the report in December 2018 to ensure nothing is missed and issues are addressed.

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