Senate bill to determine need for transportation inspector general

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 3, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4A

The Assembly Transportation Committee on Monday approved an amended version of Senate Bill 878 that would order the California Transportation Commission to examine whether an inspector general should be established to oversee state transportation agencies.

The amended bill, authored by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, was approved unanimously by his committee last week and passed the Assembly panel by a 7-1 vote. It proceeds to the full Assembly after the upcoming legislative recess.

DeSaulnier said the inspector general approach came largely in response to a series of Bee investigations about California Department of Transportation tests of California bridges. Those stories raised questions about the structural stability of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge eastern span, scheduled to open by Labor Day 2013. They also examined doubts about the adequacy of Caltrans bridge-testing oversight.

The legislation would require the commission to report back to the governor and Legislature by Jan. 31, 2014. Caltrans officials could not be reached for comment.

"We have to create a third party with some authority, outside of the agency, that has expertise" to scrutinize Caltrans and its work, DeSaulnier said.

Caltrans' audits and investigation unit examines possible fraud and malfeasance, and reports to the agency's director. If the inspector general is ultimately established, California would join New York and Florida, among others, that use separate investigation agencies to oversee transportation.

"It's really important that the inspector general is independent and has to report to both the administration and the Legislature," DeSaulnier said. "This, if it's done right, can move in the direction of a change in culture" for Caltrans, which has more than 20,000 employees and spends billions of dollars annually.

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