The LAO Report clearly spells out what we have been saying for years: Caltrans is overstaffed and inefficient. It needs to be downsized in the same way that private engineering firms have been forced to downsize due to a lack of work—including lack of a fair share of state work. We fear that the legislature will, once again, adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach, cave-in to powerful public unions, and in effect force the problem onto the business community and the California taxpayers.
For years the Legislature has only allowed private engineering companies to perform less than 10 percent of the state transportation engineering—a level far below the 50 to 60 per cent level in the other 49 states. Instead, as the LAO report demonstrates Caltrans has over-relied on full-time employees. Then when funding for projects dries up, as it is now, Caltrans and the taxpayers are stuck with too many, costly full-time employees.
If the past is any guide, no one should be surprised, if in response to the LAO report the Legislature does the following: Instead of reducing Caltrans huge bureaucracy, the Legislature slashes Caltrans’ current meager use of consultants. If so, the Legislature will face a bit of a problem: At present Caltrans total use of engineers from engineering companies does not even come close to the 1,500 job cuts called for by the LAO.
This is not and should not be about private engineers versus public engineers. The plain fact is that Caltrans—like any state department of transportation—needs both. What this is really about is the plain fact that for years Caltrans has been allowed to grow without limits. We are now at the point where, if anyone had any doubts, the LAO has amply demonstrated that bigger is not necessarily better. In fact, if you take a look at almost any other DOT in this country, the trend has been toward smaller, more efficient operations. California stands alone as the only state in which more than 90 percent of work performed is handled in-house.
ACEC California Executive Director