Now comes Auditor Doug Hoffer with all kinds of cheery news about the Agency of Transportation’s road construction effort. His latest performance audit takes a look at VTrans’ work in cost and scheduling of paving projects, and he didn’t find much for former contractor and now Governor Phil Scott to be proud of.
In fact, Scott ought to be embarrassed.
(Full report downloadable here.)
Hoffer looked at 14 major paving projects and found… “significant deviations” in project scheduling, especially in the preliminary engineering phase; “a lack of consistent record-keeping” that made it difficult to determine why delays took place; a lack of performance metrics for scheduling; and while VTrans did fairly well with simpler projects,
… for the more complex projects, VTrans always exceeded the initial cost estimates provided to the Legislature by more than 50 percent and completed them up to six years late.
That sounds like abject failure to me.
The state of Vermont spends big money on road paving. Hoffer points out that Scott’s 2024 budget calls for $141.6 million in paving in the next fiscal year alone. With that kind of cash in play, Hoffer says the need for effective management is paramount.
And you’d think a lifelong construction contractor like, um, Phil Scott would be fully aware of this. Then again, he’s proven orepeatedly that he’s willing to settle for comfortable mediocrity in his top officials. Joe Flynn has been VTrans secretary since Day One of the Scott administration. Yep, he’s been on the job for more than six years and is reponsible for all the defects Hoffer found in the agency’s management of major road projects.
Flynn’s reponse, included in Hoffer’s audit report, contains little to no of the customary defiance and insistence that things are perfectly fine that normally suffuses the administration’s response to a Hoffer audit. If anything, Flynn comes across as more than a bit chastened.
Flynn does make a show of describing the complexity of VTrans’ work: “VTrans project managers are constantly managing numerous projects, often designing and delivering more than 20 projects annually.” He describes how road projects have gotten more complicated in recent years and that projects are constantly changing, and emphasizes that his agency has done a pretty good job of keeping Vermont’s roads in good shape.
But he doesn’t try to explain away Hoffer’s findings or insist that his agency is already fixing the problems. He sees the audit as “an “an opportunity to understand and make improvements, and described how his team will address Hoffer’s three main recommendations: Create a process to consistently record what caused cost and schedule deviations, and implement processes to determine the causes of cost and schedule deviations.
In closing, Flynn says his agency “appreciates the work” that went into Hoffer’s report and “accepts” its findings on documentation of project estimates and schedules. It’s about as close to unconditional surrender as you’ll see in an official response to a Hoffer audit.
As I noted above, you’d think Scott, of all people, would expect nothing less than the best from his transportation officials. The only question about Flynn, in my mind, is did he enable this inadequate performance or did he simply accept flaws that already existed when he took over the agency?
Also, Hoffer notes that the administration has a specific goal of doing better in this area.
The Governor’s State Strategic Plan includes the goal of improving “transportation project planning” by continuously improving “project development efficiency by reducing the time and cost for planning, engineering, permitting, right-of-way acquisition and construction management.”
This could be grounds for a, shall we say, reassessment of Flynn’s position in the administration. Given Scott’s well-established predilection to rely on familiar faces and rarely, if ever, impose consequences on top officials who don’t do the job, Flynn is more likely to get a pat on the shoulder and an “Attaboy” than to see his tenure come to a premature end.
After all, this is the governor who just bestowed a judicial appointment on a prosecutor who, in the words of another judge, showed “a pattern of neglect” in providing evidence to defense counsel.
But hey, Flynn says he’ll do better from now on, so go get ’em, big guy.
The more liberal the state government, the more their infrastructure suffers. Why? Feel-good social programs get all the money so liberals can build their voting power base. Needed repairs keep getting put off. There is a sad lack of accountability. Phil Scott is a liberal, the R notwithstanding. Don’t just blame him. The liberalism of Vermont is to blame right across the board.
“The liberalism of Vermont is to blame right across the board.”
Well, I didn’t see that this was liberal or conservative issue. Overall, it looked like some interesting management deficiencies by a Republican governor and members of his administration, appointed by him, both conservatives, who got caught at it by our progressive state auditor. This auditor was re-elected by a majority of Vermont voters to do precisely what he did here.