Port Authority's state audit finds some improvements

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A state audit of Port Authority found the transit agency has made "significant improvements" in its operations, but cited some spending, purchasing and contracting deficiencies, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Monday.

"The Port Authority of Allegheny County is in a significantly better place today than it was in the last audit" completed in 2007, he said at a news conference at the county courthouse. "There are still major areas that need to be cleaned up."

Mr. DePasquale said changes reduced the authority's spending for pensions by 34 percent in 2012. He also credited the agency for trimming post-retirement health care for new employees and praised the authority's labor unions for agreeing to major contract concessions.

In addition to several procedural flaws it cited, the audit, covering a period from July 2007 to the end of 2012, uncovered what Mr. DePasquale described as "exorbitant" spending to relocate a former assistant general manager from Massachusetts to Pittsburgh in 2009, including $4,200 for a rental car.

The employee, who was not identified in the audit but is no longer with Port Authority, was provided $28,695, including $15,065 for five months of lodging and the rental car, even though the employee's living quarters were within a half-mile of authority headquarters.

Mr. DePasquale said the employee should have been told to take the bus or walk to work. "I don't even know how I would get a car that would cost $4,200 for five months. Maybe there's a place on another planet," he said.

The employee also double-billed the agency for $4,300 in relocation costs but repaid the questioned amount after Mr. DePasquale's auditors discovered the discrepancy and notified the authority, he said.

Among the other findings, auditors said the authority paid $60,000 to an outside company in 2010 to develop a revised fare policy, but never adopted the recommendations. The authority cited a variety of factors that delayed implementation but said the information was still useful and could be adopted.

The auditors said $700,000 in cost was added to a $1 million contract for electrical work in early 2012 because the authority changed the specifications after the contract was awarded. The authority answered that design changes in projects of that size "are not uncommon or unusual."

An aborted effort to cut costs on a paving project for a park-n-ride lot in 2009 wound up costing $520,000 more than the initial $841,000, auditors said. The authority responded that it decided to do full-depth reconstruction of the pavement rather than mill and repave the surface.

Mr. DePasquale acknowledged that the deficiencies cited in the report were "not a very high percentage of the budget" but said they were serious.

"They agreed with all of our audit recommendations" for changes in procedures, he said. "They should be commended for that."

In a statement issued Monday, the authority said it appreciated the audit, "which identifies some general concerns and also significant improvements that have benefited the public transportation system. The authority has, and continues, to seek out ways to improve how we conduct business and provide service."

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic. First Published March 24, 2014 1:55 PM

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