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Introduction of "The Safety, Efficiency and Accountability on Transportation Projects Through Public Inspection Act of 2007"

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


* Mr. FILNER. Madam Speaker, I rise today to introduce the Safety, Efficiency and Accountability in Transportation Projects through Public Inspection Act of 2007 (H.R. 2485).

* This bill would require public employees to perform the inspection and related essential public functions on all state and local transportation projects. My bill is intended to ensure that public safety is protected, transportation funds are not wasted and projects are delivered in a timely manner.

* On transportation projects, the construction inspector is the eyes, ears and voice of the public. Inspectors ensure that construction and seismic standards are met, that projects meet safety requirements and that the materials used will stand the test of time. In short, inspectors are there to ensure that the motoring public gets what they pay for and public safety and the public interest are protected.

* When the construction inspection function is outsourced to a private company, there is no longer a representative of the public on the job site. In this circumstance, one private company is charged with the task of inspecting the work of another private company. This creates multiple conflicts for the private inspector. First, the private inspectors' primary obligation and responsibility is not to the public, but to the success and profitability of his company. Because the private construction company whose work they are inspecting on one project may be a business partner on a future project, private inspectors may also feel pressure from the private contractor to take steps that ensure larger profits for both firms. I am concerned that these conflicts have led private inspectors to cut corners and overlook problems that threaten public safety, increase costs and delay projects.

* There are many examples in which public safety has been threatened by the use of private inspectors, including Boston's ``Big Dig'' (where a concrete slab from a tunnel ceiling fell and killed a woman), the L.A. Redline subway (Hollywood Blvd. collapsed), the 8-805 Interchange in San Diego (10,000 defective welds on a seismic retrofit), the Connecticut I-84 project (hundreds of drains that lead nowhere).

* Contracting out public inspection work also does not save money. Defective work requires extensive repairs, and inevitably, the taxpayer gets stuck with the bill. Comparative studies have also found that contracting-out engineering, design, and inspection costs more than to do this work in-house, and none of these studies found that consultant engineers were less expensive. Factors that contribute to consultants' excessive costs include the lack of competitive bidding, cost-plus provisions in contracts, salary differentials between the private and public sectors, profit margins of from 10 percent to 15 percent, and additional costs connected with selecting and supervising consultants.

* Failure to have public construction inspectors has also delayed projects in the past and will undoubtedly do so in the future. One such example is the privately inspected $12 million carpool bridge connecting the San Diego (405) and the Costa Mesa (55) Freeways. The project was to have been completed in April 2003. However, work was halted in August 2002 when chunks of concrete were falling from the structure and many cracks were noticed. Contractor and private inspector errors were later discovered and the carpool ramp did not open until January 2005.

* The public and the Federal Government understand what's at stake. In a 2006 California public opinion poll, 71 percent of those surveyed said they want State engineers to inspect the construction of State highways; only 20 percent found private firms acceptable for the task. David M. Walker, the Comptroller General of the United States, said in a recent interview: ``There's something civil servants have that the private sector doesn't, and that is the duty of loyalty to the greater good--the duty of loyalty to the collective best interest of all rather than the interest of a few. Companies have duties of loyalty to their shareholders, not to the country.''

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