Audit says oversight lacking on transit outreach


HONOLULU (AP) — The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation should keep a tighter rein on its consultants to make sure taxpayer-funded expenses for public outreach are justified, a city audit concluded.

The review by the Office of the City Auditor said the agency overseeing Oahu’s rail transit project “generally” followed federal rules in spending nearly $14 million to keep the community informed, another media outlet reported Tuesday.

The report reviewed spending by rail consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff and InfraConsult since 2005. The consultants controlled project costs with “minimal accountability” by city transit officials, the audit said.

“More oversight and accountability needs to occur at HART to justify the millions spent on public involvement,” the report said.

HART Executive Director Dan Grabauskas disputed the findings in a letter Thursday to city Auditor Edwin Young.

Of the authority’s 132 positions, 80 percent are filled by city employees, he said.

When the authority was created, consultants filled about 80 percent of the positions, he said.

The audit noted 24 full-time public outreach positions were cut to 9.5 positions since Grabauskas became director in 2012.

Auditors, however, said the authority has no way to gauge the effectiveness of outreach expenses.

The audit cited postings by former blogger Doug Carlson, who promoted the rail project through 2012 under a more than $350,000 two-year Parsons contract, as a “questionable” outreach practice. Dozens of Carlson’s rail posts were political, editorial or “inappropriate” in content, according to the audit.

Children’s coloring books, T-shirts, tote bags, water bottles and other novelty items promoting the project were allowed under federal rules, the audit said.

Consultants continue to manage millions for the project but are exempt from filing annual financial disclosure forms, the audit said.

Grabauskas said the authority has taken steps to gauge the effectiveness of outreach.

Consultants, he said, are required to follow state ethics guidelines.

“One thing that I think Edwin Young is right on, is an auditor can do a lot to point out where you can do better,” Grabauskas said Monday.

“Saying that we’re transitioning but maybe we can do better is fine,” he added. But on other points “we respectfully disagree.”

 

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