Union: DOT can save by doing more work in-house

As Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s transportation enhancement plan advances, the union for the state’s transportation engineers offered new evidence this week that its members can do the job more cost-effectively than the private sector could.

CSEA-SEIU Local 2001 released Department of Transportation analyses from the last two fiscal years showing the state could have saved more than $125 million over the past two years had outsourced engineering and construction inspection work been performed by DOT staff.

But union representatives also acknowledged this probably would have necessitated hiring more transportation staff — a move contrary to DOT hiring trends in recent years.

“We are fully supportive of the governor’s vision,” said David Glidden, executive director of the union that represents about 1,000 transportation engineers, planners and property agents. “But in order to make that vision a reality, you need the people to do the work.”

Local 2001 completed a review this week of cost-effectiveness evaluations the DOT must prepare, according to state law, before hiring private contractors.

The evaluations showed the state could have spent between 46 percent and 52 percent less on construction inspection work — depending on the size of the project — by using in-house staff. Similarly, it could have saved 59 percent to 63 percent on engineering contracts.

According to DOT documents, the department spent $305.5 million in these areas in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 fiscal years combined.

Applying the percentage savings from the cost-effectiveness evaluations, using department staff would have saved between $125 million and $140 million over these two fiscal years.

The union had done a preliminary analysis of departmental spending on private contracts last January, but hadn’t calculated the full additional cost.

Travis Woodward, a transportation engineer and union member who prepared Local 2001’s analysis of the DOT reports, said there often is an assumption that public-sector labor is more expensive because its workers often receive superior benefits to those paid in the private sector.

But private consultants’ overhead costs and profit margins often tip the balance the other way, he said.

The department did not comment on the union analysis.

Union spokesman Ben Phillips acknowledged that to secure this type of savings, the DOT would have to add more staff.

“We don’t know what the number is, but we know we need more workers,” he said.

According to the last monthly state personnel report, the DOT had 2,992 full-time positions actually filled.

That’s only 23 more than it had five years ago, when the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee concluded it lacked adequate staff to complete projects on time and under budget.

And an effort by Malloy and the legislature last year to address this problem bogged down as the current state budget fell into deficit. State finances are between $162 million and $190 million in deficit this year, and a much larger shortfall topping $1.4 billion looms in 2015-16.

Malloy and lawmakers included funding for 101 new DOT positions in the budget, and 60 percent of those were engineering jobs.

But many of those positions never were filled. The administration froze most hiring back in November after disclosing a deficit. The number of full-time positions actually filled at the DOT is down by 90 since the last fiscal year ended back on June 30, 2014.

“I think there is a tradition at the DOT, going back before this administration, to rely on consultants,” Glidden said, adding it isn’t enough to plan for more hiring of DOT staff. “That needs to be put into actual practice.”

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