The California State Senate passed two bills, authored by Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), aimed at making Caltrans more accountable to the public. SB 486, which creates the Office of Legal Compliance and Ethics, passed off the senate floor unanimously today on a 39-0 vote. SB 425, which defines the peer review process for public works projects, passed the state senate unanimously last Friday on a 35-0 vote.
“These bills represent the first steps in changing the culture at Caltrans,” Senator DeSaulnier said. “When it comes to reviewing major public works projects, we need to introduce greater accountability and transparency. The Office of Legal Compliance and Ethics will ensure Caltrans audits and investigations are reported to the public—not just the higher ups at Caltrans. Additionally, projects touted as “peer reviewed” should live up to the public’s expectation of what the term really means. SB 425 sets the standard for assembling peer review panels in a clear and transparent manner. The unanimous votes for SB 425 and SB 486 show that these are common sense, bi-partisan reforms.”
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, minimizing 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 and requires administering agencies utilizing a peer review group on a public works project to develop a transparent process for selecting members of the review group. Further, agencies must draft and post online a charter for the peer review group describing the groups’ members, objectives, and aims. Finally, 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 the group created by the administering agency meets the strict standards outlined in SB 425.
Website of Senator Mark DeSaulnier: http://www.sd07.senate.ca.gov/