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Audit says ODOT is misaligned with governing body, commissioners vow change

Posted by on February 2nd, 2017 at 5:42 pm

OTC meeting in Salem-1.jpg

ODOT Director Matt Garrett listens to a presentation about the audit from Tyler Duvall of McKinsey & Company.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Oregon Department of Transportation Director Matt Garrett sat silenty for nearly two hours today while members of the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC, ODOT’s governing body) probed deeper into an audit of the agency he has led since 2005.

ODOT got solid marks from auditors in some categories — like organizational culture and building and maintaining highways. But auditors also found the agency needs a clearer short-term plan and more effective coordination with its governing body, the OTC.

“[ODOT is] a very capable organization… However, the timing I think is right for a step back, around, how do we actually manage given the changing nature of the challenges we’ve talked about?”
— Tyler Duvall, McKinsey & Company

The OTC called the special meeting at ODOT headquarters in Salem to hear from Tyler Duvall of McKinsey & Company, the firm hired by the Department of Administrative Services to assess how ODOT is managed. The $1 million, 65-page audit (PDF) is meant to reassure lawmakers and the public that ODOT is up to the task of handling a massive transportation package that has been named a top priority by Governor Kate Brown. The legislative session started yesterday and the framework of a deal is already being hashed out.

The last time the legislature debated such a package, in 2015, many people pinned its demise on Garrett’s lack of transparency about a key metric (greenhouse gas emissions) in the bill. Several lawmakers called for Garrett’s resignation following that fiasco. Then just a few weeks ago OTC Chair Tammy Baney shocked Capitol-watchers when she sent a letter to Governor Brown asking for greater oversight of ODOT — a move many interpreted as a vote of “no confidence” in the agency.


OTC meeting in Salem-3.jpg

OTC Chair Tammy Baney.

And it’s worth remembering that Baney became OTC Chair two years ago after the former chair, Catherine Mater, was relieved of her duties by then-Governor Kitzhaber, according to the Portland Tribune, “after questioning a project that she concluded showed signs of fraud.”

In the context of recent events and future debates, this “strategic misalignment” and what appears to be an emerging power struggle between ODOT and the OTC is one of the most important issues the audit has helped to define.

“The goal should be that you as a body speaks with a voice that is clear so the agency [ODOT] can take that direction and run with it,” Duvall said today. “In absence of that alignment, you express things in more generalities.” Duvall expressed that the lack of alignment between ODOT and the OTC manifests publicly and then flows through the entire bureaucracy. “That misalignment is not getting resolved in a unifed way right now,” he said.

Here’s an excerpt on this from the audit:

…there is a strategic misalignment within the OTC and between the OTC and ODOT that bespeaks a lack of consistent communication and partnership… When asked in interviews about their top three priorities, commissioners did not have a uniform answer… and many did not align with ODOT’s five stated goals.

[OTC] commissioners and ODOT leaders are not aligned around a consistent vision of agency priorities.

The audit also found that the OTC’s charter is too vague and its five members often feel like they don’t have the information they need to make informed decisions. Here’s a relevant excerpt from the audit:

OTC’s role, responsibilities, and decision-making process are ambiguous and inconsistent. OTC does not utilize committees, does not conduct internal assessments of the commission’s progress against its objectives, and does not conduct performance assessments of the ODOT director.

“You have my word, this is just the beginning.”
— Tammy Baney, OTC Chair

This disconnect between ODOT and the OTC is a big deal. If the governing body that ostensibly “establishes state transportation policy” isn’t even on the same page as ODOT, there’s no way we can effectively implement existing plans or execute new policies. (Not to mention the fact that the audit also revealed the OTC “reports only infrequent interaction with the Oregon State Legislature.”)

The findings Duvall presented today validate the concerns and ideas outlined by Baney in her letter to Governor Brown last month. In an interview today before the OTC meeting, Baney continued that change-oriented tone. “Now it’s about taking the findings [of the audit] and putting them into action,” she said.

After listening to the presentation today, Baney posed a question to Duvall with an aim to, “address the elephant in the room.” “In your professional opinion,” she wondered, “Where are we with the health of the organization? Does it give you pause in terms of how we fared [in the audit]?”

In response, Duvall praised ODOT, saying “has clear strengths” and is a “very capable organization.” But, he added, appearing to choose his words carefully, “the timing I think is right for a step back, around, how do we actually manage given the changing nature of the challenges we’ve talked about?”

At the end of today’s meeting, OTC member Paula Brown hinted that they’ll now work to figure out the nature and scope of potential changes. “This is just a jumping-off point” she said about the audit. “It can’t end here.” To which Baney replied, “You have my word, this is just the beginning.”

From here, the Department of Administrative Services will draft a set of official recommendations (in consultation with McKinsey) and plans to deliver them to Governor Brown, the OTC, and the Legislature by the end of February.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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28 Comments
  • Todd Boulanger February 2, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    Wow! (An interesting day plus finding out the study took $1m to complete…I will have to read it.)

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 2, 2017 at 6:10 pm

      Yes. That does sound like a lot of money.. But in the State’s defense, I think they got a pretty good product. they surveyed 2,700 ODOT employees, did interviews with dozens and dozens of upper managers as well as interviews with external stakeholders and then cross-referenced all the interview info with their database of millions of organizational interviews from agencies and top companies around the world. Pretty valuable info. Yes it didn’t go into a lot of the stuff I would have liked to know more about (as outlined in Cortright’s piece)… But Duvall is a super smart dude (former undersecretary of Transpo Policy for USDOT) and he has put a lot of useful information into ODOT/OTC/State’s hands. Know the question is what do they do with it.

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  • Adam
    Adam February 2, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    Fire Matt Garrett.

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  • Jim Lee February 2, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    In 2008 I publicly stated that it was necessary to sack Matt Garrett.

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    • 9watts February 3, 2017 at 9:37 am

      While it is fun to take whacks at the Garrett Pinata, and I have at times done so myself I am not sure that it is that simple. Do we have any reason to think we’d get someone better to replace him?

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      • nuovorecord February 3, 2017 at 12:31 pm

        Sure. If the right political pressure is applied.

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  • John Gear February 2, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    Definitions:

    1) A system is a set of interacting elements organized so as to be able to achieve a purpose.

    2) The purpose of a system is what it does.

    Therefore, we can conclude that the purpose of ODOT-Contractor-Legislative system is to undermine Oregon’s public financial resiliency, funnel money to large engineering firms and favored cronies, keep Oregonians dying in droves and breathing polluted air while destabilizing the climate for future generations, while pretending not to focus entirely on maintaining a state where automobility is mandatory for full participation in society.

    The only solution to the manifold problems caused by ODOT is to get the automobile off welfare — supplement the Constitutional provision mandating the use of the gas tax for highway purposes with a complementary provision that dictates that ONLY the gas tax can be used for highway purposes — NO property taxes, no general fund appropriations. Then and only then will we have any hope of having a system that is built to serve people instead of the other way around.

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    • John Liu
      John Liu February 3, 2017 at 12:11 am

      “2) The purpose of a system is what it does.”

      That statement is a glib misstatement. So if my car breaks down, the purpose of my car was to strand me by the side of the road?.

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      • John Gear February 3, 2017 at 9:32 am

        Thanks to Spiffy for a concise, accurate response. So much of our predicament is caused by our failure to hold policy and budget makers accountable for what their creations actually do, instead choosing to be satisfied by good intentions.

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    • Tom Hardy February 3, 2017 at 7:51 am

      And according to NOAA reports this year North polar temperatures are running up to 50 degrees warmer than normal. Multiple 24 hour periods of temperatures above freezing this ast December and January. I will have to dig for the link to the site again. NSA has been killing the site.

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    • Spiffy February 3, 2017 at 8:24 am

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_purpose_of_a_system_is_what_it_does

      The term is widely used by systems theorists. It is generally invoked to counter the notion that the purpose of a system can be read from the intentions of those who design, operate, or promote it. From a cybernetic perspective complex systems are not controllable by simple notions of management, and interventions in a system can best be understood by looking at how they affect observed system behavior. When “side effects” or “unintended consequences” reveal that system behavior is poorly understood, then taking the POSIWID perspective allows the more political understandings of system behavior to be balanced by a more straightforwardly descriptive view.

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  • Mike February 3, 2017 at 5:51 am

    The bottom line is not where do you spend the money but where do you get the money to spend? And in a broke state like Oregon, burdened by a 22BN PERS monster that just keeps on taking, It’ll be a tough question to answer.

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    • Paikiala February 3, 2017 at 8:17 am

      Blaming unions, or the negotiators?
      The courts have ruled on breaking contracts, repeatedly.

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  • bikeninja February 3, 2017 at 8:36 am

    Maybe we can pawn Garrett off on the Trump administration

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • 9watts February 3, 2017 at 9:39 am

      And for whom would that be a win? Last time I checked the Trump administration is screwing up *our* country.

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  • J_R February 3, 2017 at 10:21 am

    It’s evident from reading the article that it’s not all ODOT’s fault. The OTC members don’t even agree among themselves. Add on top of that the pressure from every legislator wanting stuff done in his/her district.

    Don’t forget that ODOT has to do several things simultaneously: operate, maintain, and build transportation systems without negatively impacting anyone at any time. Every constituency thinks it is getting short-changed.

    Yet, some posting here think it can all be fixed by replacing Garrett. Right.

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  • Todd Boulanger February 3, 2017 at 10:59 am

    I listened to the hour plus report to the OTC last night…nothing really stood out other than they say these issues are not uncommon in other states’ DoTs (what Oregon is NOT special?!). I have not had the time to review the full report…

    If OTC cannot even have a cohesive internal viewpoint then the Governor needs to act and rebuild it before it takes on reforming ODoT’s management…or else it will be a bigger mess (the loss of informal long term institutional processes development ad hoc along with regular public processes – per the OTC report dialog yesterday). [Not sure if Gov Brown what to do that while seeking re-election. Perhaps Mr. Mapes can report on this?]

    Overview: What is the Oregon Transportation Commission?
    The Oregon Transportation Commission establishes state transportation policy. The commission also guides the planning, development and management of a statewide integrated transportation network that provides efficient access, is safe, and enhances Oregon’s economy and livability. The commission meets monthly to oversee Department of Transportation activities relating to highways, public transportation, rail, transportation safety, motor carrier transportation, and drivers and motor vehicles.

    The governor appoints five commissioners, ensuring that different geographic regions of the state are represented. One member must live east of the Cascade Range; no more than three can belong to one political party.
    https://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/COMM/Pages/otc_main.aspx#Overview

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  • wsbob February 3, 2017 at 11:42 am

    “…while members of the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC, ODOT’s governing body) …” bikeportland

    Referring to the OTC as, “…governing body….” of ODOT, suggests that the OTC has some type of authority over ODOT. What type of authority might this be?

    Is it a direct, or indirect authority? Can OTC pause an ODOT project, if it finds that the project budget is getting out of control? Can it require that ODOT get a different bid from a different contractor if it feels ODOT management has made a poor choice?

    Hard to tell exactly what’s going on between those two state agencies. Seems the people from each, go out of their way to be polite to each other, but may not actually be communicating with each other about the business they’re each apparently responsible to see succeeds.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 3, 2017 at 11:52 am

      from the OTC website:

      The Oregon Transportation Commission establishes state transportation policy. The commission also guides the planning, development and management of a statewide integrated transportation network that provides efficient access, is safe, and enhances Oregon’s economy and livability. The commission meets monthly to oversee Department of Transportation activities relating to highways, public transportation, rail, transportation safety, motor carrier transportation, and drivers and motor vehicles.

      And as the article and the audit says, the lack of clearly defined roles between OTC and ODOT is a problem. It used to not matter as much, but as the politics has heated up and criticisms have been leveled at ODOT, it appears the OTC would like to have more power and/or make sure the roles are much more clearly defined. It would be a massive shift for our state if this relationship changed in a big way — which is why I’m watching it so closely.

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      • wsbob February 4, 2017 at 11:00 am

        The description of OTC’s purpose and function, from the OTC website and re-posted here, saying that the commission:

        “…establishes state transportation policy. The commission also guides the planning, development and management of a statewide integrated transportation network…”

        …isn’t too bad…it’s ok, but not great in that it doesn’t touch on what the commission does in actual practice, relative to projects ODOT takes on and work on. The OTC’s self description has it sound like OTC is the authority to which the state intends that ODOT rely upon for direction.

        Though if that description is coupled with the excerpt brian posted just below on February 3, 2017 at 12:47 pm, it seems that the OTC relies on ODOT to come up with the plans for developing and managing the state’s transportation network. That to me sounds backward, the reverse of the way projects consistent with the plan, should be assigned.

        OTC may not be serving in much more than in an approval capacity, waiting for ODOT to come up state transportation plans, which it puts before OTC for approval. Maybe OTC technically has the lead on state transportation projects, in order for it to be certain that they are consistent with the objectives of the state’s transportation network, but it doesn’t much sound like it. I wonder if with a phone call or an email to for example, the ODOT or the governor, the OTC can abruptly if it saw fit, stop an ODOT project it believes has gone awry or out of control on the budget.

        It seems to me that both the OTC and ODOT, and all of the people in the state, ought to be considering much more thoroughly, what they feel the state’s “…statewide integrated transportation network…”, should be; so that OTC has its direction clear, and so it can issue instructions accordingly to ODOT. I get the sense that neither of those two state agencies really know where the state’s transportation network is going, or should be going. They seem to want to just build, build, build, as if that can go on infinitely with no real fundamental plan.

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  • brian February 3, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    From the OAR’s Part 731 Division 15
    731-015-0015 Definitions
    (7) “Commission” means the Transportation Commission.
    (8) “Department” means the Department of Transportation.

    731-015-0045 Coordination Procedures for Adopting the Final Transportation Policy Plan
    (3) The Department shall present to the Transportation Commission the draft plan and findings of compliance with all applicable statewide planning goals.
    (4) The Transportation Commission shall adopt findings of compliance with all applicable statewide planning goals when it adopts the final transportation policy plan.

    731-015-0055 Coordination Procedures for Adopting Final Modal Systems Plans
    (4) The Department shall present to the Transportation Commission the draft plan, findings of compatibility for new facilities affecting identifiable geographic areas, and findings of compliance with all applicable statewide planning goals.
    (5) The Transportation Commission, when it adopts a final modal systems plan, shall adopt findings of compatibility for new facilities affecting identifiable geographic areas and findings of compliance with all applicable statewide planning goals.

    731-015-0065 Coordination Procedures for Adopting Final Facility Plans
    (5) The Department shall present to the Transportation Commission the draft plan, findings of compatibility with the acknowledged comprehensive plans of affecting cities and counties and findings of compliance with applicable statewide planning goals.
    (6) The Transportation Commission shall adopt findings of compatibility with the acknowledged comprehensive plans of affected cities and counties and findings of compliance with applicable statewide planning goals when it adopts the final facility plan.

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  • Specialized Hardrock February 3, 2017 at 6:46 pm
    • 9watts February 3, 2017 at 6:54 pm

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_Hedge

      Zero Hedge’s content has been classified as conspiratorial, anti-establishment, and economically pessimistic,[3] and has been criticized for presenting extreme and sometimes pro-Russian views.[1][4][5]

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  • Phil Richman February 6, 2017 at 11:30 am

    I trust ODOT leadership about as much as your average Portlander trusts riding a bike across the Vermont and Newbury Bridges.

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