Isn’t PECG Just Sneaking Around To The Back Door?

In committee testimony on the recently amended AB 2620 (Eng), the American Council of Engineering Companies of California (ACEC CA) thanked the bill’s sponsor Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG) for finally acknowledging what we have known for many years: that the Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Department of Finance are correct in their assertion that the “loaded” costs of public engineers and private engineers are essentially the same – $224K to $230K.

PECG has finally, after years of assertions to the contrary and countless dollars spent on lobbying and PR, admitted they were wrong.

However, AB 2620 (see below for summary analysis and comments) which was approved by the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee yesterday, is a blatant attempt to artificially reduce PECG’s reimbursable rates to local agencies by inappropriately shifting overhead costs associated with state resources and not accounting for them when billing their services to those local agencies. The problem? Those costs don’t go away. As the analysis below points out, the State Highway Account (SHA), which is already underfunded and can’t keep up with state transportation needs, will ultimately bear these costs…to the tune of at least $66 million per year (and potentially higher).

Additionally, this is more evidence that PECG is seeking to take over local agency work. Why? PECG knows its members do not have enough work to do to keep busy. Just this spring the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that Caltrans is overstaffed by at least 1500 employees.

ACEC CA’s understanding is that several local transportation agencies originally were pleased that their costs for reimbursed work would be going down. Who wouldn’t be pleased? However, on closer scrutiny, they realized that the pressures on the SHA from shifting overhead costs are going to result in potentially a half-billion dollar loss over a five year transporation planning cycle and that short term cost gains will be more than offset by a lack of funding in the future. ACEC CA understands that several local agencies are now considering opposing such legislation because of the pressure this puts on the SHA.

Here’s just another example of the public sector and its allies in the Capitol adopting flagrantly protectionist legislation designed to protect state employee jobs, health plans and pensions while hurting private jobs, health plans and pensions and placing further burden on California taxpayers. If these actions were being taken by a private company they would almost certainly be viewed as anti-competitive pricing tactics and violations of the Sherman Act (anti-trust). It’s outrageous that some members of the Legislature and California’s public employee unions believe that there should be one law for the rest of us, and none for them.

The irony here is that the original bill, while still bad policy in our eyes, recognized a shortfall in SHA dollars and actually sought to increase funding. AB 2620 now creates additional pressure on the SHA by forcing overhead costs for state workers to be paid out of the account. The irony speaks for itself.

SUBJECT:

AB 2620 (Eng) Department of Transportation: capital outlay support services.

DESCRIPTION:

This bill changes the overhead rate that the Department of
Transportation (Caltrans), charges for reimbursed work it
performs for local agencies or private entities.

ANALYSIS:

Existing law authorizes Caltrans to recover its direct and
indirect costs for capital outlay support services it performs
for local agencies or private entities, except when Caltrans
performs work on the State Transportation Improvement Program
(STIP). Existing law exempts STIP projects from being charged
indirect costs.

This bill :

1) Defines “capital outlay support” to mean services
related to project development, including development of
specifications, preliminary engineering, prebid services,
preparation of project reports and the environmental
documents, design service, preparations of plans,
specifications and cost estimates, construction inspection
and management services, surveying and materials testing,
and related functions.

2) Defines “indirect overhead cost” to mean the pro rata
share of existing administrative salaries and benefits,
rent equipment cost, utilities, and materials

3) Requires a public agency or a private entity to
reimburse Caltrans for staff salaries and benefits for
staff needed to perform capital outlay support (COS)
services, as well as for the cost of administration
directly related to the function, such as space, equipment,
and required materials.

4) Denies Caltrans reimbursement for indirect overhead
costs unless the cost can be attributed solely to the
capital outlay support functions and would not exist if
Caltrans did not perform that function.

5) Requires an agency or an entity to reimburse Caltrans
when Caltrans uses a contractor to provides capital outlay
support services for the cost of the contractor plus costs
directly associated with the contracted function, including
but not limited to, advertising and awarding the service
contract, inspection, supervision, and monitoring of the
contractor.

COMMENTS:

1) Purpose . According to the sponsors, the Professional
Engineers in California Government (PECG), Caltrans is
unnecessarily charging local and regional agencies overhead
and administrative costs that are not related to the
delivery of COS services associated with designing highway
improvements. PECG argues that for reimbursed work Caltrans
is currently charging local and regional authorities for
all Caltrans’ administrative costs, including charges for
building depreciation, bond interest charges, audits, and
multiple other items unrelated to state highway project
delivery.

2) Overhead rates . Federal guidelines require that projects
funded with federal gas tax revenues are charged the
“functional” overhead rate and the rate for indirect costs.
The functional overhead costs are associated with a
specific function, such as COS. Annually, the Department
of Finance and the Federal Highway Administration approve
Caltrans’ direct and indirect overhead rates. When
performing COS services on projects funded with local
funds, Caltrans charges local agencies both the functional
rate, as well as for the indirect costs associated with
operating Caltrans. By not charging the indirect cost for
reimbursed work, the state would be subsidizing local
agencies. Moreover, if Caltrans does not charge the rate
for indirect costs for reimbursed work, the federal
government will not reimburse the state for those costs.

3) Costs are real money . This bill exempts indirect costs
related to the overall management and operation of
Caltrans, including legal, personnel, civil rights, audits,
space charges, and other similar costs, from being charged
to public agencies or private entities if they contract
with Caltrans for COS services. It is a customary
accounting practice in any enterprise, public or private,
to allocate overhead costs across all functions of the
organization. By exempting public agencies or private
entities from paying the indirect costs, the bill offers an
incentive to those entities to retain Caltrans to provide
COS services and not to retain private engineering firms.
The exempted costs, however, do not go away. They are
charged to the other functions of Caltrans.

In end, this exemption reduces the amount of funds in the
State Highway Account that will be available to improve the
state’s highway system. According to Caltrans, it received
nearly $66 million in reimbursements for indirect costs
associated with providing COS services in fiscal year
2008-2009. To exempt local agencies and a private entity
from reimbursing Caltrans for this cost means that the
State Highway Account will have to absorb the cost. State
highway funds are already at a premium. Caltrans indicates
that the minimum cost of performing rehabilitation work on
a state highway is approximately $240,000 per lane mile.
Failure to collect indirect overhead costs is equivalent to
approximately 275 line miles of highway not being
rehabilitated.

4) Federal accounting issues . The exemption from being
reimbursed for indirect costs may be contrary to federal
regulations governing cost allocation procedures for
agencies receiving federal highway revenues. If Caltrans is
out of conformity with federal accounting requirements,
remedial actions would have to be taken to bring the
department into conformity or the state not be reimbursed
for the costs.

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