Caltrain in Desperate Need of a State Audit

CalTrainThe State Legislature recently approved on a bipartisan basis, an Audit of the High Speed Rail Authority. The Legislature also needs to authorize an audit of Caltrain, the Bay Area commuter line.

Caltrain is exhibiting extreme incompetence and has wasted millions of dollars of public funds. If ever a public agency needs to face an audit, it is Caltrain.

Nobody wants Caltrain to fail. Caltrain provides a valuable commuting option to jobs, for workers on the peninsula. Recent events certainly would lead one to forecast that failure is where Caltrain is now headed.

At the Caltrain board meeting (3/1/2018), Caltrain authorized a new contract which they hope will salvage the Positive Train Control (CBOSS) disaster. It is truly amazing how Caltrain has managed to make so many bad decisions to implement this Federally mandated project.

For many years, Caltrain has been warned that CBOSS was headed in the wrong direction. A record documenting this history can be found in the blog of Clem Tillier.

Clem has for years been campaigning for a reset on CBOSS pointing out repeatedly its problems and forecasting its demise.

The signing by Caltrain of a new contract with a different vendor at this meeting to implement a new PTC project, finally after years of delay and incompetence, kills CBOSS as previously envisioned.

Clem predicts the cost in wasted dollars will be $150 million; I suspect the final bill will be much higher. Numerous delays have been involved; it is now quite possible that Caltrain may have to stop service at the end of this year, because Caltrain will not be able to meet the Federally mandated deadline that PTC be operational on its tracks by then.

The Staff report on the project and discussion took over 1 hour. How staff can deliver such a presentation and not really admit any fault of Caltrain in the CBOSS failure, but blame it on others, is amazing.

(It should be noted in comparison, that MetroLink down south, with over 500 miles of tracks, implemented PTC by 2016 at a final cost of around $200 million. Caltrain has failed thus far with implementation of PTC and will have spent at least $350 million. This is for only 50 miles of track)

Caltrain is now starting on an over $2 billion electrification project. The cost has doubled in the last 3 years and continues to balloon. It has just been announced another over $200 million escalation in cost to procure more EMUs)

With this past history, how can the public have any confidence that Electrification will succeed and provide the service they claim? Caltrain recently pushed the timeline for completion, out from 2020 to 2022.

Current CEO Jim Hartnett was a political appointment to lead Caltrain. Hartnett’s background, is he was an ex-Mayor of Redwood City. He possessed none of the required qualifications in experience or education involving rail operations that were deemed necessary during the search to replace the former CEO, Scanlon. Hartnett’s compensation of over $500,000 annually is grossly excessive when compared to other rail or transportation executive positions.

State Senator Jerry Hill is leading an effort for a sales tax ballot measure shortly to provide a subsidy of around $100 million annually, for Caltrain’s operations. The recent history of Caltrain’s operations should lead the voters to say NO to such a measure? Changes at Caltrain need to be made.

A State audit of Caltrain and its operation, by the non-partisan State Auditor, is sorely needed.

Founder of DERAIL, The original Grass Roots group opposing the High Speed Rail project.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Audit: Vets agency wastes $28 million on failed computer system

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

California’s state auditor has labeled yet another California government technology project an expensive failure.

The California Department of Veterans Affairs has spent nearly $28 million on a system that launched years later than planned, wastes staff time and has not been fully implemented, according to an audit released Thursday by state Auditor Elaine Howle.

The audit marks the latest in a long string of California government technology failures. The auditor previously found data security weaknesses and unsatisfactory oversight on technology projects. Additionally, a payroll system update spiraled into chaos, licensing board software was delayed, and a tax and fee system stalled.

Howle’s latest audit found the Department of Veterans Affairs started with a plan to implement a comprehensive computer system so veterans who receive rehabilitative, residential and medical services would get “consistent and integrated care” no matter which facility they visited throughout the state. The idea was approved in 2006.

Audit of L.A. ‘training institutes’ reveals abuse of ratepayer dollars

Photo courtesy of 401(K) 2013, Flickr

Photo courtesy of 401(K) 2013, Flickr

Ratepayers are mad as hell after Controller Ron Galperin’s financial audit of the Joint Safety and Training Institutes revealed that we have been ripped off by IBEW union boss Brian D’Arcy for tens of millions of dollars. This audit revealed bloated salaries, credit card and expense account abuse, prohibited payments to DWP employees to conduct training sessions, and no bid contracts totaling millions.

The City Administrative Officer’s performance and operational evaluation revealed an inefficient organization without adequate management, oversight, controls, policies, and procedures.  As a result, the CAO’s report outlined 36 recommendations, all of which have been agreed to by DWP and the IBEW.  This includes appointing an executive director and developing a plan for a money saving merger of the institutes.

The CAO’s report indicated that the Institutes provided some value, including servicing as a catalyst and focal point for training and safety and an incubator for “researching, developing and implementing programs relatively quickly to address specific issues or concerns.”

Because of the lack of adequate controls and performance metrics, there is no way to determine how much bang for the buck the ratepayers received for their $20 million that was funneled to the two nonprofit trusts over the last five years.

We have a right to be mad as hell as the Joint Safety and Training Institutes have squandered over $40 million of ratepayer dollars over the last 15 years without any accountability.  But our wrath should not be directed at DWP and its management, but rather at the city council which has provided air cover for IBEW union boss D’Arcy and his shenanigans.  But this is not surprising as at least ten members of the city council have received campaign contributions from the IBEW and its cronies. The other members are whipped into shape because they fear that D’Arcy will use the IBEW slush funds to finance the election campaigns of their opponents.

This kowtowing to D’Arcy was evident in the delays leading up to the release of Galperin’s audit.  It took over a year from the Los Angeles Times front page expose in September of 2013 for the city council to approve a limited five year audit of the trusts, and another six months before the financial review was completed.  This included a two month delay because D’Arcy was concerned that the audit was too comprehensive.

Furthermore, previous general managers and other senior members of management were told by then-Mayor Villaraigosa and selected members of the city council that the Joint Safety and Training Institutes were off bounds and none of their business.

Rather than bury the reports of the controller and the city administrative officer, the city council and the Energy and Environment Committee, led by D’Arcy acolytes Wesson and Fuentes, respectively, should hold comprehensive, open and transparent hearings so that ratepayers and voters can develop a better understanding of what happened to the ratepayer money that was funneled to the trusts over the last five years.

The trusts would need demonstrate that they are efficient and why they should not be shuttered, especially given that the department spends over $100 million a year on safety and training.

The trusts would also be required to discuss the timetable for implementing the 36 recommendations that IBEW and DWP have approved.

Ratepayers deserve a full accounting of what happened to their $40 million that was laundered by the Joint Safety and Training Institutes.  Without a full disclosure, the Mad as Hell Ratepayers will vent their fury November 2016, when the city, LAUSD, the county and the state want us to approve massive increases in our taxes.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, The Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds — www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected]