State audit faults Caltrans lapses
Published: Friday, Mar. 29, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
In an investigation released Thursday, the Bureau of State Audits sharply criticized the California Department of Transportation for numerous lapses in managing a unit that tests foundations of bridges and other freeway structures to verify their soundness and safety.
Among the key findings of the four-year probe:
• Employees falsified test data in a total of 11 cases – 10 involving a technician and one involving an engineer. Caltrans eventually analyzed the suspect structures and deemed them safe.
• Caltrans allowed the technician who falsified data to access digital test archives for eight months after his fraud became known – leaving records open to deletion or manipulation. Thousands of data files necessary to understand the unit's testing history were lost or destroyed, either intentionally or by accident, making a comprehensive review of possible falsifications impossible.
• The test unit manager secretly misappropriated state property for personal use with the help of two technicians. The manager also approved improper payments of $13,788 to those technicians.
The audit report recommended efforts to recover misspent funds and improve data handling in the testing unit.
"These findings are very much in keeping with the hundreds of pages of reports Caltrans delivered to the Legislature in February," Caltrans spokesman Will Shuck said in a written statement. The agency has adopted most of the solutions recommended by the state auditor, he said.
The Bee previously reported those findings, among many others, in a series of articles over the past 16 months.
Mar 29, 2013
Not a good day for Caltrans: A scathing report by the state auditor notes that some Caltrans workers falsified data, put in for huge amounts of false overtime and committed sundry other on-the-job acts.
From the Mercury News' Lisa Vorderbrueggen: "Several Caltrans workers falsified test data on transportation projects, claimed hundreds of hours of overtime they didn't work and engaged in an "inexcusable neglect of duty," California State Auditor Elaine Howle concluded in a probe released Thursday."
"Much of Howle's findings have already been disclosed through media accounts, legislative hearings and Caltrans' own reports."
"But the audit compiles the transgressions of a handful of Caltrans workers whose misdeeds cast doubt on the structural integrity of every project they touched, including the new Bay and Benicia bridges."
Everybody's looking at the skimpy Sierra snowpack this year, including Gov. Brown, who sees it as a good reason to support his plan to build tunnels in the Delta.
From the LAT's Anthony York: "“The security of California’s water supply is threatened,” said Natural Resources Secretary John Laird in an email statement, citing the “urgent need to continue work on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.”
"The snowpack in the Sierra Mountains, the source of the bulk of California’s water supply, is about half of what it should be, according to snow surveying crews."
"Brown’s $23.7 billion water plan, first introduced publicly last year, includes the construction of two new massive tunnels that would divert as much as 67,500 gallons of water per second around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in Northern California and bring that water to the southern half of the state."
The feds, taking the lead from California, are poised to announce requirements for cleaner gasoline.
From the LAT's Neela Banerjee: "The Obama administration is expected to propose new rules Friday that would slash the amount of sulfur in gasoline, one of the most significant steps the administration can take this term toward cutting air pollution, said people with knowledge of the announcement."
Court: Obama appointments to labor panel are unconstitutional
Published January 25, 2013
WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court ruled Friday that President Obama violated the Constitution when he sidestepped the Senate to fill open spots on a labor relations panel, in a major setback for the president.
The suit had been brought by a local business in Washington state challenging the National Labor Relations Board. Supported by dozens of Senate Republicans, the case argued the president didn't have the power to make three appointments to the NLRB.
Attorneys for the Obama administration argued that he had the authority because the Senate was in recess.
But a three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia said the appointments were not valid because the Senate was not officially in recess. If the decision stands, it could invalidate hundreds of board decisions.
"Either the Senate is in session, or it is in the recess. If it has broken for three days within an ongoing session, it is not in 'the Recess,'" the panel said.
The court said the president could only fill vacancies with the recess appointment procedure if the openings arise when the Senate is in an official recess, which it defined as the break between sessions of Congress.
"Considering the text, history and structure of the Constitution, these appointments were invalid from their inception," a panel said.
Republican lawmakers lauded the decision. "Today's ruling reaffirms that the Constitution is above political party or agenda, despite what the Obama Administration seems to think," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said. "With this ruling, the D.C. Circuit has soundly rejected the Obama Administration's flimsy interpretation of the law, and will go a long way toward restoring the constitutional separation of powers."
Unions Crumble Without Stimulus Spending
Published January 24, 2013
“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”
-- President Franklin Roosevelt in an August 16, 1937 letter to the National Federation of Federal Employees.
President Obama laid out some ambitious liberal goals this week, including gun control, same-sex marriage, reversing global warming and increased federal spending.
But it’s that last one that he’d better get busy with if he means to get any of the rest.
Obama’s Department of Labor released the unhappy news for Democrats: Union membership in America has fallen to the lowest level since before the New Deal laws to encourage union organization.
Whatever Democrats say about Republicans and the changing demographics of America, it’s perfectly clear that the blue team cannot survive as constituted without their patrons in the government worker unions.
Overall union membership dropped by about 400,000 members from 2011 to 2012, a decline of 11.8 to 11.3 percent of the U.S. workforce. But the worst news for union leaders is where the decline occurred: in what had been their only growth sector, government workers.
More than half of the loss came among government workers. The majority of union members are now government workers and government workers have a union membership rate of 37 percent, about five times higher than the private sector.
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