Audit Critical of CA Court Construction Office

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – An audit of California’s courthouse construction program found a desperate lack of uniformity, accountability and transparency.
     The voluminous report by an independent consulting firm on the Office of Court Construction and Management revealed confusion and inefficiency are widespread within the division of judiciary’s Administrative Office of the Courts responsible for nearly 50 courthouse building projects.
     “Ultimately, lack of uniformity, transparency and accountability could seriously jeopardize the legislature’s and public’s trust of the information being reported out of the Program,” the consultants found.
     Pegasus Global Holdings, the auditor, reported that while some of the construction office’s policies and processes met industry standards, “as a complete body, the policies, procedures and processes that are currently in place at OCCM for managing and controlling the program are not uniform or transparent and do not provide for the level of accountability expected for a megaprogram the size and complexity of the Court Capital Construction Program.”
     The report continued, “There is currently no comprehensive, complete or final policy, procedure or process in place which fully defines construction management under the program, or which provides a uniform structure under which construction management and control will be exercised at the project level. The current program construction management policies, procedures and processes are incomplete, and in some instances in conflict with one another, which results in inconsistencies in construction management practices at the project level.”
     It added, “Construction management and control are among the least developed and least coordinated of the OCCM formal policies and procedures. As a result, there is built into those existing policies and procedures an opportunity for confusion, misunderstanding, duplication of effort and inefficiency.”
     The Judicial Council hired Pegasus in January 2012 to investigate the construction office’s management of a $6.3 billion courthouse building program, paying particular attention to budget, organization and quality control in the wake of severe funding cuts to the judiciary. The analysis, for which the AOC shelled out roughly $425,000, took around five months to complete. It was sent to the AOC for review in July, which the AOC finished in early August.
     But the council did not make the report publicly available until Friday afternoon, prompting an outcry among judges who had called for its early release. A statement from the Alliance of California Judges said the reform group is “not surprised by yet another Friday afternoon document dump that excoriates another expensive mishandled program by the AOC. It is an indictment of the Office of Court Construction and Management and the failure of the Judicial Council to lead.”
     Teresa Ruano, spokesperson for the AOC’s construction office, said the report was held back until the council’s audit subcommittee could hear it presented at its Friday meeting. “The meeting of the subcommittee was when it was felt appropriate to release the report,” she said.
     In addition to incomplete, conflicting or confusing polices, the Pegasus consultants also seemed baffled by the construction office’s organizational structure, saying it lacked “a clear chain of command.” While they noted that the office is understaffed and overworked, they recommended it use its current staff more efficiently. “While Pegasus-Global was informed, and agrees, that there was insufficient staff to execute all of the functions required for a megaproject exceeding $5 billion and over 40 individual projects, the Program Management needs to be able to demonstrate that it is making the best, most efficient and effective use of the current staff in order to demonstrate that the current staff is sufficient to execute the full functional responsibilities of the program or the projects,” the report says.
     In its response to the consultants’ findings, the construction office said it agrees with their recommendations.
     The audit will be formally presented to the council’s Court Facilities Working Group at a series of public meetings in September, where the group will also review 30 courthouse projects to determine which can move forward and which should be indefinitely delayed. But any action on the Pegasus audit is not scheduled until the full Judicial Council can meet at the end of October.

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