Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Oregon Transportation Commission to Discuss ODOT Management Audit Thursday

The Oregon Transportation Commission has scheduled a special meeting for tomorrow, Thursday the 2nd. They'll be discussing the management "audit" of ODOT.

The Portland Tribune had to make a public records request for it, but at least for a little while a slightly redacted version is now posted to the OTC website. So if you want to read it, you should download it right now! It will probably disappear very shortly.

Mostly the internal assessment of ODOT management is not very interesting for our purposes.

The moments where they discuss strategy and vision is a little interesting, though, and point to ways that it has seemed like so much of project selection, notwithstanding all the scoring and prioritization exercises at one level or another, was truly ad hoc and driven by politics more than a real commitment to a strategy:

Capital Strategy (p22)
ODOT sets an overall strategy for capital allocation and then solicits “Enhance” and “Fix It” projects to fit into those buckets, creating an ‘optimal’ portfolio. In the most recent budget, this balance was set at 15 percent “Enhance” projects and 85 percent “Fix It” projects. Interviews with stakeholders reveal that ODOT’s process for arriving at that balance is unclear, so ODOT could improve the transparency of how it arrives at its overall capital allocation strategy.
Strategy and the OTC (p51)
While OTC has written long-and short-term strategic plans for state-wide transportation, the strategy has not been effectively internalized. Today, commissioners and ODOT leaders are not aligned around a consistent vision of agency priorities. In interviews, commissioners and ODOT senior management expressed a wide variety of priorities for ODOT. A clear and shared strategy, supported by metrics with a meaningful reporting cadence, could make the commission more effective.
If we are going to commit to "fix it first," to greenhouse gas reductions, to reductions in VMT, to multi-modalism - if we really are going to do all these things, high-level strategy should be driving and better aligned with project selection.

In that light, the section on rubber stamping (p48) was relevant:
However, many of the members of the five-person commission indicated that they are unsure if they have complete information to make informed decisions during meetings. They described meetings as times when ODOT updates them and asks for approval, rather than settings for debate with a fact base on both sides of the decision.
And while the OTC might feel this way "at times," the public also often does! Just look at the messed-up process for the Salem River Crossing, which has always seemed to be driving to a pre-determined conclusion, not something genuinely responsive to criticism and comment, and not something actually consistent with strategy/goals to reduce VMT, emissions, and drive-alone trips.

Focused as it was on "management" the audit seemed to miss one important element: managing change. It seemed to be based on a fundamental notion of how to do business as usual better, not how to adjust business to changing realities. The audit doesn't much touch on the structures - and predicaments - of road funding, like the increasing inadequacy of the gas tax and increasing debt service, or touch on the changing nature of mobility. I guess that would be a substantially different audit or report, and you can't fault a text for not being what it doesn't set out to be. Still, by not addressing these in more detail, it may be more shallow and optimistic than the conditions originating the audit really called for. I expected more forensic discussion of the problematic management of the CRC, the Highway 20 Eddyville mess, and the fiasco around the low-carbon fuel standard numbers at the Legislature, for example. (Maybe these are separately in a redacted/confidential portion, I suppose.)

It will be interesting to see what others have to say about the report.

The OTC meets Thursday, February 2nd, at 10am in the Gail Achterman Conference Room 103, in ODOT HQ, 355 Capitol Street NE.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Oh-ho! Over at BikePortland, Joe Cortright of City Observatory uses much stronger language!

"The audit is misleading, inaccurate and omits key facts about ODOT’s substantive management problems. In effect, the audit actually conceals some of ODOT’s most expensive blunders.

An audit that doesn’t acknowledge, much less analyze, obvious problems can’t provide meaningful solutions. For example, auditors who can’t even correctly identify the cost of the agency’s largest construction project—and who purposely omit it from their one statistical chart showing cost overruns—aren’t worth the money they’re being paid, because they haven’t done their jobs....

ODOT’s hand-picked–and apparently spoon-fed–auditors have essentially failed to look at any of the agency’s well known project planning and execution blunders of the past decade....

McKinsey’s audit is worse that useless: it is actually a source of mis-information that effectively white-washes the agency’s multiple management failures.

Cortright also points to the OR 20 Pioneer Mountain Eddyville mess and the CRC.

The review is scathing and worth a read!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...


BikePortland filed late this afternoon a report on the meeting itself.

Sounds like change is in the air.