Public money

California’s Department of Transportation, known as Caltrans, has fought for years to maintain its practice of giving contracts with no bid process, worth millions each, to private engineering and design consultants who have contributed regularly to gubernatorial and allied political campaigns. Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG) has documented this practice, and has tried to end it.

[Summer, 1998] A ruling in PECG's favor (see August 19 Superior Court ruling, below) orders Caltrans to terminate contracts with private firms for design and engineering. This may lead to cancellation of the Oakland Bay Bridge design contracts, expected to reach at least $50 million.

PECG's chart clearly shows that two firms next in line for lucrative seismic-retrofit design and engineering are Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall (DMJM) and Sverdrup Corporation, two of three firms which claim to have designed the appalling self-anchored suspension structure which is to be one-fifth of the bridge. (The third firm is Ben C. Gerwick, Inc., long-time Caltrans insider, represented on MTC's Engineering Design Advisory Panel in the person of Ben Gerwick.)

Caltrans uses a "request for qualifications" procedure which ranks each firm for a given project. Caltrans then awards the contract to one of the firms according to a rotating system of favoritism. Compare this with the troikas in old Communist Russia and Eastern Europe or the corruption in public works in a dozen nations in Central and South America.

No-Bid Design Awards for Eight Simultaneous
Caltrans Seismic Retrofit Contracts
Total = $32 Million

Source: Professional Engineers in California Government

1 10 9 8 7 6 5 4
Quade &
2 1 10 9 8 7 6 5
HDR Engineering 3 2 1 10 9 8 7 6
Cather and
4 3 2 1 10 9 8 7
5 4 3 2 1 10 9 8
Brown & Root
U.S.A. Inc.
6 5 4 3 2 1 10 9
Tammen &
7 6 5 4 3 2 1 10
Greiner Inc.
8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Daniel, Mann,
Johnson &
9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3

According to PECG, Caltrans' qualifications-based selection system determined that the most qualified firm on one contract was the least qualified firm on the next contract. The above eight firms receiving contracts had contributed $791,691 to California gubernatorial campaigns since 1990.


Superior Court ruling orders Caltrans to justify or terminate contracts

A story by Stephen Green in The Sacramento Bee, Saturday, August 22, 1998, reports that a judge in Sacramento has ruled that a law enacted after the 1994 Northridge quake which allows Caltrans to expeditiously hire private design and engineering firms for seismic retrofit projects violates the State Constitution. The ruling orders Caltrans to either justify the contracts or terminate them as quickly as possible.

The ruling resulted from a suit against the Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG), which represents state-employed Caltrans engineers. Dean Dunphy, a politically appointed Secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency of which Caltrans is part, sued PECG in 1995 in order to validate the contracting-out law. Rather than validate the law, the August 19, 1998 ruling declares it unconstitutional.

In 1997 the California Supreme Court ruled that Caltrans had issued a number of contracts illegally. But that ruling was stayed (postponed), due to arguments about the urgency of seismic retrofit work and the public's safety. PECG asserts that the transportation agency has refused to follow law and provide adequate staffing for Caltrans, and that any delays in those projects are due to the agency's recalcitrance.

Private contracts in question are for inspection, construction, design and engineering, and include the main contract for design of the east span of the Oakland Bay Bridge, expected to cost around $50 million in addition to geotechnical work and preliminary design already costing more than $25 million.

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