Testimony of Rachael Fauss, Reinvent Albany
to MTA Board
Re: MTA Board Must Ensure Traffic Mobility Review Board Follows
State Law and Change Orders are Transparent
January 23, 2020
Good morning, I am Rachael Fauss, Senior Research Analyst for Reinvent Albany. We advocate for more transparent and accountable state government — including for state authorities like the MTA. I am here to address two areas where the MTA Board must ensure greater transparency:
- The MTA’s Traffic Mobility Review Board must follow the Open Meetings Law.
- MTA staff should bring back quarterly change order reports.
First, the Board should promptly appoint the Traffic Mobility Review Board, and ensure that it follows the Open Meetings Law, as we and 20 other groups wrote to you on November 15th. Congestion pricing is critical to the future of the MTA, and you can build public support by letting the public see how recommendations are made about fees and exemptions. Following up on that letter, the NYS Committee on Open Government issued an advisory opinion to you on November 21, 2019 which states that the TMRB must follow the Open Meetings Law. As Board members responsible for appointing the TMRB, you must ensure it follows basic transparency norms, such as holding public meetings for its deliberations and votes.
Second, per the letter that we sent you earlier this week, MTA staff must bring back quarterly change order reports, which show millions of dollars worth of changes to contracts. These reports were quietly eliminated as part of changes to your procurement guidelines in June 2019, when the threshold for approving change orders was increased to $1M. Eliminating this transparency requirement is the opposite of what should have been done with an increased threshold. In 2018, these reports showed 171 change orders worth $111 million.
Also of importance is that the L train tunnel contract with Judlau from 2017 authorized the staff to make change orders without Board approval, with the provision that amendments would still appear in the quarterly change order reports. With the elimination of these reports, the Board is no longer being briefed on amendments to the L tunnel contract, which has been the focus of considerable public attention.
The quarterly reports are important tools for flagging possible cost overruns and contracts that have mutated away from their original purpose, and we ask that you bring back these change order reports. Contract amendments between $250,000 to just under $1 million should be reported to the Board, reflecting the increased threshold.
Thank you for your consideration.