High-Speed Rail Has Too Much PR

Anthony Pignataro:

How’s this for timing: on the same day that the California High-Speed Rail Authority sends out a press releasing officially announcing that they’re getting $715 million from the federal government, the Los Angeles Times runs a story on a new state Inspector General audit of the bullet train agency showing that they’re still paying out millions of dollars to contractors without doing proper documentation.

“Of $8.9 million in payments reviewed by the office of Inspector General Laura Chick — a former Los Angeles city controller — about $3.44 million, or about 38%, was paid out in May and June without records showing how many hours the consultants had worked,” the Times reported.

Ironically, Chick’s office found that the HSR Authority has been spending way too much on public relations.

“The days of paying bills that show no deliverables, no progress reports, no tasks performed and no timesheets must end,” Chick wrote to Governor Arnold Schwarznegger on Oct. 27. “For example, my auditors found over a four month period, $72,000 paid without any back-up documentation to public outreach consultants. The invoices simply billed for the exact same amount each month with no details given on work performed. During this same four month period, Ogilvy Public Relations hired in February as the overall communications consultant, was paid $1,005,097.”

This is not the first time a government watchdog has ripped the bullet train agency for questionable financial assertions (click here to read the state Legislative Analysts’ Office critical report on the HSR 2009 business plan).

Granted, Chick says things are getting better at the agency (HSR CEO Roelof van Ark mentions this prominently in his official response to the IG’s report) but there’s still something chilling about the fact that reports like Chicks are still coming out, even as the fed keeps handing over hundreds of millions of dollars…

OCT. 28,. 2010

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