State cuts DOT staffing, spends millions more on private consultants to do the same highway work | WisCommunity

State cuts DOT staffing, spends millions more on private consultants to do the same highway work

Since January when Scott Walker became governor and on through April, the state Department of [img_assist|nid=51969|title=My way or the highway|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=175|height=131]Transportation has spent an extra $13.9 million outsourcing state road work to private consultants, even though the state acknowledges the work could have been done cheaper by state employees -- if it wasn't already badgering many of them into early retirement.

Some of those busy private DOT consultants belong to a state roadbuilders association that funneled noticeable amounts of campaign cash to Walker. However, the outsourcing problem also existed under Gov. Jim Doyle. A state audit in 2009 confirmed expensive DOT consulting costs, but the report was not acted upon by the governor or Legislature. Neither has anything yet been done under Walker's tenure, and it doesn't look like anything will be done in his first two-year budget -- except to accelerate outsourcing and hike costs to taxpayers yet some more.

The spending on expensive consultants was highlighted in a news story on Madison's WISC-TV last night (URL to a transcript and streaming videocast, below).

Making this situation even worse is that a record number of state engineers are taking early retirement in light of the Walker administration's moves to cut wages and benefits and strip away collective bargaining rights, creating more vacancies. DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb says he's working to fill in some of those positions but makes no promises.

It may not be easy to convince civil engineers to join up, when the state already offers less in total compensation to engineers than their private-sector counterparts make, and that doesn't take into account Walker's plan to reduce compensation even more.

"Right now, what's happening is we're paying someone else to do it for more money," Mark Klipstein, president of the State Engineering Association, told WISC-TV News. The association is the collective bargaining unit for 1,100 engineers and technical professionals in the DOT and other state agencies.

According to Klipstein, when there isn't enough state DOT staff to handle a growing workload of highway projects, the state hires out engineering work to private contractors. The DOT completes cost-benefit analysis reports for contracts with outside consultants and most show that consultants cost more money. From the broadcast: "In some 300 projects, WISC-TV found that 80 percent of the reports said just that -- there was no DOT staff available to do the work."

Walker's budget would hold transportation funding steady while advancing major new road projects. He would not add DOT positions while getting rid of some long-vacant ones.  The State Engineering Association put out a news release on April 5 noting that early retirements at DOT had zoomed since the start of 2011, resulting in the loss of a collective 2,100 years of state engineering staff experience. [See link below] Other reports from the Wisconsin Retirement System have said early retirement inquiries from state employees have quadrupled since Walker revealed his state employee compensation givebacks.

Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington), co-chair of the powerful Joint Finance Committee, told WISC that no one has brought forth any ideas on how to deal with the problem, adding: "In general, I never want to waste taxpayer dollars." Gee, Assemblyman, just in general and not always?


May 25, 2011 - 11:23am