I recently was on vacation in Orlando, Florida. While there, a report was shown on a local news station that made my blood boil. The story concerned two employees of a contractor for the Florida Department of Transportation that were caught sleeping on camera. The contractor was HNTB Corporation. In on-camera interviews, HNTB office leader George Gilhooley said the problem had been taken care of by "disciplining" the employees and FDOT spokesman Steve Olson stated that FDOT was satisfied with the action taken by HNTB. The employees were not fired.
Did anyone bother asking the taxpayers of Florida if THEY were satisfied? After all, they were the ones paying for service which was not provided by the sleeping employees. The report went on to say that these employees are tasked with monitoring the highways, updating traffic signs to reflect current conditions and updating the Florida 511 system. That's important work which is pretty hard to do when you're asleep. When you pay for a service and don't get what you paid for, that's a ripoff. Hardly the first in this company's history though.
In 2008, my home state of Texas was devastated by hurricanes. In 2009, HNTB was awarded a contract by HUD to manage $1.4 billion in federal disaster recovery funds. There was no bidding; the contract was simply awarded to HNTB even though they lacked experience in community development block grants. Ray Sullivan who was Rick Perry's presidential campaign manager, was also coincidentally a former lobbiest for HNTB.
After the contract was awarded, Perry did away with the agency that would have overseen HNTB's management of funds in his effort to streamline state government. As a result, the original $69 million dollar contract ballooned to $144 million for administrative costs. $45 million was eventually paid to HNTB before their contract was canceled on August 31, 2011 - four years before it was set to expire. The reason for the cancelation of their contract was that HNTB had only released about 20% of the money for infrastructure projects at a time when at least 50% of the projects had been slated for completion.
Some of you are angry because you got ripped off on a new television or maybe a car. While these are valid concerns, they pale in comparison to the problems of contractors like HNTB who take millions of hard earned taxpayer dollars and leave you with little to show for it as illustrated in the two cases above. Maybe you can't do anything about the government taking money from your paycheck but you can demand accountability for the way it's spent.
Do you hear that laughter? It's the sound of employees who are receiving your tax dollars as they sleep at work. They're laughing because they have an employer who lets them get away with it. It's the sound of corporations sharing a joke with political allies as money - YOUR money - changes hands. Not so funny, is it?