DeSaulnier’s “CALTRANS Watchdog” Bills Pass Senate Committee

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Mark DeSaulnier

Good news, two bills authored by Senator Mark DeSaulnier aimed at ensuring CALTRANS is held more accountable in the future passed by a Senate Committee yesterday. With all the problems CALTRANS has had recently, these bills are very timely.

“We have to change the culture at Caltrans, especially when it comes to reviewing major public works projects,” Senator DeSaulnier said. “We cannot have an agency reporting its investigations to itself and expect to get fully transparent results. The Office of Legal Compliance and Ethics will ensure audits and investigations are accountable to the public—not just the Caltrans director.”

Here is a look a the Press Release put out by Senator DeSaulnier’s office yesterday.

DeSaulnier Bills Aimed at Making Caltrans Accountable to the Public Passed by Senate Committee on Governmental Organization

Bills create the Office of Legal Compliance and Ethics and redefine peer review process on public works projects

SB 425 and SB 486, authored by Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), were passed by the Senate Committee on Governmental Organization today.

“We have to change the culture at Caltrans, especially when it comes to reviewing major public works projects,” Senator DeSaulnier said. “We cannot have an agency reporting its investigations to itself and expect to get fully transparent results. The Office of Legal Compliance and Ethics will ensure audits and investigations are accountable to the public—not just the Caltrans director.”

“Projects touted as “peer reviewed” should live up to the public’s expectation of what the term really means. SB 425 sets the standard that a peer review is transparent and has been conducted by panelists free of conflicts of interest.”

SB 486 creates the Office of Legal Compliance and Ethics (OLCE) within the Transportation Agency by rededicating a large part of the Audits and Investigations Division of Caltrans. The OLCE will utilize existing resources, which will minimize costs. The OLCE will be responsible for preventing and detecting serious breaches of Caltrans policy, as well as fraud, waste, and abuse. The OLCE director will report to the California Transportation Commission, the Governor, and the Legislature, and will post a summary of his or her findings for the public on the agency’s website instead of reporting to the Caltrans director.

SB 425 takes a number of steps toward legitimizing the use of peer review on public works projects in California. SB 425 defines peer review, conflicts of interest, and requires a project sponsor to develop a transparent process for both choosing peer review panelists and conducting the review. In addition, the bill requires all megaprojects, projects costing more than $1 billion, to instigate peer review of critical aspects of the project.

Further, SB 425 restricts the use of the term peer review in order to maintain the integrity of the process throughout the state. A project cannot be “peer reviewed” unless it meets the strict standards outlined in SB 425.