Port Authority audit shines light on organizational flawsBy
When I started writing Second Ave. Sagas, Peter Kalikow was in charge of the MTA. Since then, I’ve seen Lee Sander and Dale Hemmerdinger take the reins; I’ve seen Helena Williams succeed them on an interim basis; I’ve seen Jay Walder come and go; and now Joe Lhota sits atop the agency. Depending upon how you wish to count, that’s six folks in charge over the span of five years and three months. With that kind of turnover, it’s amazing anything at the MTA gets accomplished at all.
The Port Authority has it worse. It must answer to two state governors and has a complex leadership structure that has seen seven executive directors since 2001 and frequent turnover in the chairmanship position as well. It was tasked with rebuilding the World Trade Center, and it recently enacted steep fare hikes and toll increases in order to fund an ambitious capital plan. It is a deeply dysfunctional and non-transparent bureaucracy that can’t even answer simple FOIA requests in less than four months.
Yesterday, Navigant Consulting released an independent audit of the organization, and its critique was a scathing one. Their preliminary review revealed ” a challenged and dysfunctional organization suffering from a lack of consistent leadership, a siloed underlying bureaucracy, poorly coordinated capital planning processes, insufficient cost controls, and a lack of transparent and effective oversight of the World Trade Center program that has obscured full awareness of billions of dollars in exposure to the Port Authority.”
The headlines today are all focusing on the World Trade Center. The Port Authority must contribute $7.7 billion — and perhaps a few hundred million more — to rebuild the felled towers, and no one can offer a regular accounting for the project. For those of us who have seen the costs of the Calatrava PATH terminal jump by a few billion dollars, this revelation can hardly be much of a surprise.
The more alarming lesson from the audit though concerns the Port Authority’s capital plan. As the PA is now, Navigant charges, a major real estate developer and holding company, it may not have the money or capacity to realize its ambitious capital plan. Navigant is urging further examination of the plan and process.
For now, though, what I read in the audit — available here as a PDF — reminds me, in part, of the MTA a whole bunch of years ago. The organization is overflowing with unnecessary and redundant positions while workers are making far too much money for their jobs, and no one really understands the organizational structure within the authority. Patrick Foye, a former MTA Board member, is now in charge, and he’ll have to do what Jay Walder spent a few years doing at the MTA. Cutting costs and reorganizing will become key buzz words.
For their parts, the men in charge seem to recognize this reality. “The consultant’s preliminary review underscores the need for the Port Authority to refocus,” Foye, the Executive Director, said. “A poorly coordinated capital planning process, insufficient cost controls and a lack of transparent and effective oversight of the World Trade Center program that has obscured full awareness of billions of dollars in exposure to the Port Authority all played a role in getting us to where we are today. Further, having the World Trade Center as the focal point of the agency’s work over the last decade has led to mission drift from our core role. We have much work to do to fulfill the agency’s mission as the provider of critical transportation infrastructure needs for the region and as an engine for economic growth and job creation. I am fully committed to working with the Governors and with Chairman Samson, Vice Chairman Rechler and the full Board to get this agency back on track.”
That’s a mouthful of buzzwords, but it has to become a reality. We’re too dependent upon Port Authority infrastructure for the agency to falter. It must move beyond the World Trade Center. It must address our 21st Century needs. It must find some stability at the top. As the MTA seeks stable funding sources, the Port Authority must become leaner. Not doing so puts our transportation infrastructure at a great risk indeed.
For a more skeptical take on the audit and the Port Authority’s work at the WTC site, check out this piece by Steve Cuozzo. Like I am, Cuozzo is highly skeptical of the billions spent on the PATH hub, few of which are going toward actual transportation capacity improvements.