Auditor criticises agency over IT contracts and oversight for California high speed rail project

By David Bicknell

Let’s hope that when the HS2 high speed rail link gets underway – assuming it gets the final go-ahead in 2014 – it doesn’t have the same problems over IT contracts and oversight that have recently come to light over a high speed rail project in California.

A new report by the California State Auditor on a planned high speed system between San Francisco and Los Angeles found that the $98.5bn project has suffered from a number of critical, ongoing oversight problems.

In particular, the auditor found that the High Speed Rail Authority responsible for the project has struggled to provide an appropriate level of contract oversight, because it is significantly understaffed.

As Palo Alto Online reports, “The audit paints a picture of a severely understaffed state agency that is struggling to keep track of its contractors, who outnumber the rail authority’s staff by a factor of about 25 to 1. As of last August, the authority had only 21.5 filled positions and more than 500 contractors.”

The State Auditor also found that the Authority poorly managed its IT contracts and engaged in ‘inappropriate contracting practices involving IT services.’

In addition to the initial contract, the audit report says, the Authority used 13 individual contracts for IT services over a 15-month period that ranged from $105,655 to $249,999.99 for similar services with one vendor.

Instead of multiple contracts generally having aggregate values of just under $250,000 with one vendor for similar services, the Auditor said, the Authority should have combined the services into one contract and solicited competitive bids or obtained approval to noncompetitively bid the contract.

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