Audit: 18 rail consultants paid average of $500,000 a year in salaries, overhead

Audit: 18 rail consultants paid average of $500,000 a year in salaries, overhead

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - HART pays an average of $500,000 a year in salaries, benefits and overhead to each of the 18 consultants who hold many of the authority’s top management positions but don’t report directly to the agency’s CEO, according to a new audit.

“We have a project that has almost doubled in cost. Yet who’s accountable for delivering the project. Is it HART or is it these consultants," said state Legislative Auditor Les Kondo.

“Right now, looking on the (organization) chart, a lot of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the consultants.”

In his latest report, Kondo took aim at the embattled Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation bureaucracy, criticizing the rail authority’s reliance on employees of the third-party consulting firm HDR Engineering Inc.

“They are different from HART employees. They don’t answer to the same master, they answer to HDR, (they’re) evaluated by other HDR people, paid by HDR, responsible to HDR, who cuts their paycheck,” Kondo said.

The report is the second of four planned by the state auditor. The first audit released last week blasted the rail authority and the city for rushing the projects two years before it was ready, resulting in massive cost overruns.

The audit, which was mandated by the state Legislature, comes as construction costs for the 20.1-mile elevated guideway project has ballooned to $9.2 billion from the original estimate of $5.1 billion.

The audit noted that the Federal Transit Administration was also critical of HART’s use of outside consultants. The FTA recommended that HART hire city employees to eventually replace the embedded consultants to “have more ownership and maintain stronger control of the project," the audit said.

But HART’s CEO Andrew Robbins said the consultants' expertise is needed as the project heads into the city’s urban core where the construction will become more complex.

He said the authority will transfer 10 to 20 percent of the consultant jobs to city workers over the next few years.

“It’s not unusual on a project like this that we would have seconded employees, embedded in our organization to provide the rail expertise that we need," said Robbins.

“The kinds of people we would need ... we would not just generally find in a place that’s never had rail before.”

According to Kondo, HDR employees — not city workers — hold four of the organization’s top five construction positions including project director, director of design and construction and managers of HART’s east and west area construction.

“HART hires third-party consultants to fill HART management and staff positions rather than city employees because it is unable to find highly-qualified candidates willing to accept a city salary for the positions,” the report said.

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