From Kevin Yamamura of The Bee Capitol Bureau:
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said in a report today that Caltrans' Capital Outlay Support program is overstaffed and recommended that the state eliminate 1,500 full-time positions if the department cannot justify its staffing needs.
The Capital Outlay Support (COS) program is responsible for environmental review, design and construction oversight of highway projects, among other responsibilities. LAO found that costs were higher at Caltrans than for comparable projects in other states and local transportation agencies.
"We reviewed Caltrans' COS budget for recent years and found that the program's budget lacks sufficient workload justification," the LAO report states. " In order to gauge the reasonableness of the department's COS requests for staffing and funding, we evaluated the program using several different methods. The cumulative evidence from our review shows that the program is over-staffed and lacks strong management."
LAO further concluded that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's three monthly furloughs have had little apparent impact on the COS program's productivity.
"The department's inability to estimate the impact of the furlough program indicates overstaffing in the COS program," the report states. "Because the furlough program was not accounted for when the current-year staffing request was developed, the 15 percent reduction in resources should have a quantifiable reduction in outcomes of the program, such as achievement of project milestones. Given that there is little concrete evidence that the program's output has declined due to furloughs, the program appears to be overstaffed by as much as 15 percent."
LAO said eliminating 1,500 of 10,359 COS positions would save roughly $200 million in special state and federal funds that could be used for project construction, though it would have no direct impact on the state's general fund budget. The Analyst's Office recommends that the Legislature require Caltrans to justify its need for all of those positions. If the department can't do so, LAO said the Legislature should cut those jobs.
UPDATE (12:45 p.m.): Bruce Blanning of Professional Engineers in State Government called the LAO report "outrageously irresponsible." Blanning said that the LAO's recommendation would punish Caltrans workers for working hard despite Schwarzenegger's furloughs.
"What (LAO) has said is that Caltrans delivers its projects in the face of the furloughs, but because there has been an approximately 15 percent furlough and Caltrans is delivering projects on time, it must be overstaffed by 15 percent," he said. "That is ridiculous. Caltrans is getting its work done, getting projects out capturing federal funds, and he's criticizing them for it."
In response to LAO's criticism that Caltrans has not provided sufficient information to justify the department's staffing needs, Blanning said, "The main thing Caltrans is doing is getting projects out, building infrastructure and relieving traffic, rather than taking measurements of how many people it takes to perform functions."