By Kevin Bogardus - 12/16/09 01:04 AM EST
In the wake of an Inspector General audit slamming the handling of a nationwide traffic data program, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) is calling on the Transportation Department (DoT) to open up its federal contract for new bids.
In a Dec. 11 letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood obtained by The Hill, Weiner says the department should sever its relationship with the contractor in charge, Traffic.com. In addition, the lawmaker recommends that DoT repossess all government-funded equipment owned by the company and reopen the program’s bidding process.
At stake is a sole-source contract, worth about $50 million, to run the Transportation Technology Innovation and Demonstration program. First awarded in the late 1990s to a company that later became Traffic.com, the contract grew by millions after lawmakers earmarked funds for the program — a state and municipal initiative to collect real-time traffic data via sensors, funded by federal dollars.
In a DoT Inspector General audit released Monday, the firm is criticized harshly for its handling of the contract. For example, the Federal Highway Administration, the DoT agency in charge of the contract, gave too much control of the program to Traffic.com, lessening its value for state and local authorities, according to the report. Also, the agency was distracted by lawmakers interested in the program and worked to minimize Traffic.com’s financial risk instead of promoting the program’s public benefits.
Weiner is confident that DoT will reopen the contract. The lawmaker, who requested the contract’s audit with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), said his first conversation with LaHood, a former Illinois Republican House member, as Transportation secretary was about Traffic.com.
“He seemed strongly persuaded that the cover-up has to end and that the mismanagement has to end,” Weiner told The Hill. “I’m confident that they are going to take steps now to end this.”
But in its initial response to the audit, the department seems to consider the matter closed.
In response to Weiner’s letter, a DoT spokeswoman noted that the Inspector General audit did not recommend that it re-bid the contract. The response also notes that the audit determined the Federal Highway Administration’s implementation of the program met statutory requirements.
The department did agree in part with one of the audit’s recommendations: that it should finalize the revenue-sharing methodology for the contract before March of next year.
The firm, now owned by Navteq, once had a heavy lobbying presence in Washington, though it has terminated its contracts for now, according to lobbying disclosure records. Traffic.com, under its different names, spent more than $900,000 on lobbying fees with at least 10 firms.
A watchdog group jumped on the DoT audit, saying it proved politics won over the contracting process and that further investigation might be needed.
“This is another example of the politics of contracting, where financial interests handcuff agencies as well as hurt the public. Agency acquiescence to the contractor has created a bottleneck preventing information from getting into the hands of cities and travelers,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, in a statement.