State News

DOT Criticized For Lack of Priorities, Accountability

Posted October 31, 2007 10:02 p.m. EDT
Updated November 1, 2007 7:13 p.m. EDT

— A consultant's report that cost taxpayers $2.5 million said that projects at the state Department of Transportation proceed slowly because of a lack of prioritization, accountability and coordination.

The 472-page report, prepared by international management consultant McKinsey & Co., was ordered in response to a botched paving job on Interstate 40 in Durham.  The review was based in part on confidential interviews and surveys of nearly 9,000 DOT employees and interviews with state leaders.

Workers complained about low morale, poor communication and a lack of incentive-based pay, and they said the DOT is too political. Many said there was a lack of vision and accountability at the agency, and one employee wrote that it seemed like no one is in charge.

"If this was a corporate structure, heads would have rolled," said state Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee. "There are too many political appointees sitting around acting like engineers, and they're not."

Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett said he doesn't feel that his job is in jeopardy because of the report.

"If it's candid answers, you'll see where the warts are in your organization. The issue is do something about it," Tippett said. "The buck stops with me and I had the authority to order the consultant to come in and take a look at us, and I did just that."

Gov. Mike Easley is confident that Tippett will carry out the recommendations made in the review, Easley spokesman Seth Effron said.

State lawmakers have told the DOT to examine how it works before requesting more money. Legislators are expected to make transportation a priority in the next session of the General Assembly.

The report also found that the DOT's structure prevents some divisions from working well with each other and that it doesn't do a good job of recruiting new workers or keeping the good ones.

Among the recommendations are that the DOT increase accountability and streamline projects. McKinsey & Co. will help the agency implement efficiency changes over the next year and a half.

The mistake that prompted the DOT audit is close to wrapping up.

Pavement on about 11 miles of I-40 had to be ripped up and resurfaced after it began crumbling shortly after a major widening project. Crews are expected to finish the job by the end of the year.

Inspectors determined a lack of on-site inspection, badly written contracts and a lack of accountability by DOT managers led to mistakes in the original paving job. Three highway engineers were disciplined and another DOT official retired in the wake of the botched project. The DOT and contractors continue to haggle over who picks up the tab for the $21 million repaving project.