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John L. Craig, who has close ties to agency, will be paid $350,000 for his work



TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - ODOT replaced a section of the bridge on Highway 213 at the Jughandle construction site in Oregon City.  When a long-awaited management review assesses the readiness of the Oregon Department of Transportation for a massive influx of funds, the effort will be led by a familiar face.

The state recently selected John L. Craig for a $350,000 contract to do an outside review of the oft-criticized agency. He was chosen over a competing company with similar experience that offered to do the job for more than $100,000 less.

Gov. Kate Brown ordered the review in November to assuage lawmakers’ reservations over some of ODOT’s past management decisions. Lawmakers said they wanted an independent, third-party review to ensure that ODOT was operating efficiently before they consider passing a transportation package in 2017. That legislation — one of Brown’s top priorities — could raise gas taxes and fees on drivers, funneling hundreds of millions of new money to the agency.

But Craig isn’t exactly an outsider. He has extensive relationships with ODOT leaders, having overseen the agency’s $1.3 billion outsourced bridge repair and replacement program for six years. He stepped down from that position 13 months ago.

Craig’s close ties with ODOT, his selection by a former longtime Brown aide and the governor’s decision to give oversight of the audit to the Oregon Transportation Commission have raised concerns about whether the review will be impartial.

“It’s like hiring the fox to vet designs for the henhouse,” said Portland economist Joe Cortright, a longtime critic of ODOT’s project management.

The choice gives the appearance that state leaders are seeking a predetermined outcome to the performance review, Cortright said, noting that Craig has worked on ODOT projects in the past and could seek contracts in the future.

Craig said he was unaware the review is linked to passage of a transportation package. He also denied suggestions that his relationship with ODOT would bias his review.

“I think all of that enhances my ability to see what is good and bad and what needs to be improved,” Craig said. “I think that is why they hired me. It has never occurred to me that somehow this would be connected to pursuing more work.”

Craig has published articles praising ODOT’s past work, bearing titles like “Delivering Remarkable Results in a Changing Marketplace: Oregon's State Bridge Delivery Program.”

Susan Morgan, a member of the Oregon Transportation Commission, defended the selection of Craig, saying she is confident the oversight committee “will hold Mr. Craig’s team to high standards leading to an independent review of ODOT.”

“Given the short time frame to completion, a consultant who is somewhat familiar with the organizational structure of ODOT may be an opportunity,” Morgan said.

While the state Department of Administrative Services issued the request for proposals and chose Craig to do the review, ODOT employees already had recruited potential consultants. Those employees also asked several firms to give input on what the review should include.

Only two companies bid for the project: Craig’s firm and Pennsylvania-based Public Works.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO  - ODOT repaired this Glencoe Road overpass in Hillsboro back in 2007. DAS formed an internal procurement team to score the proposals based on the quality of the executive summary, the firm’s experience and approach to the audit, the consultants’ resumes and pricing. Barry Pack, the former chief administrative officer of DAS whom Brown recently named interim director of the Oregon Lottery, made the final call on the selection, said DAS spokesman Matt Shelby. Pack also served as an aide to Brown when she was secretary of state and a state senator.

Brown's office reiterated Tuesday that she has entrusted the oversight committee and DAS to select an "experienced, independent consulting firm."

Craig’s proposal scored 10 points higher than Public Works in all areas except for price. Public Works bid $246,600.

Craig directed the Nebraska Department of Transportation for 10 years before becoming a consultant. Since then, he has done management reviews of “best practices” for transportation programs in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Washington, according to his proposal.

The request for proposal “clearly stated that we wanted someone with prior experience working with departments of transportation,” Shelby said. “John has worked with ODOT and other states. We see this as a benefit.”

Public Works also has evaluated state transportation departments, including those in Louisiana, West Virginia, Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico.

Stakeholders expressed concerns in January about whether an ODOT audit overseen by transportation officials could be impartial. Several advocates with environmental and alternative transportation groups sent a Jan. 6 letter to Brown asking her to hand oversight of the audit to the Secretary of State’s Office, which conducts performance audits of state agencies. “With all due respect to the Oregon Transportation Commission, we believe the audit will be perceived as in-house if it is overseen by the Oregon Transportation Commission, and if ODOT staff is engaged in scoping the audit and in hiring the consulting firm that performs the audit,” the letter stated. “An audit overseen by the Secretary of State would alleviate concerns about bias.”

The state’s choice of Craig deepened those concerns, said Chris Hagerbaumer, deputy director of the Oregon Environmental Council. “The more in-house the audit is, the less the people will trust that it is actually impartial,” she said, “and what is the purpose of an audit that people don’t see as being impartial?”


By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
503-385-4899
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