SF MTA City Whistle-Blower’s Lament: An Itemized List of How Muni Obscured Its Budget

By Joe Eskenazi : sfweekly – excerpt

LaVonda Atkinson, the cost engineer for the Central Subway project, this year filed a complaint with the city’s whistle-blower program alleging serious lapses in accounting procedures and unethical behavior on the $1.578 billion project. Among her more disturbing charges reported to SF Weekly:

A Muni official, in writing, acknowledges plugging a “make-up #” into a federally reported document in order to maintain the desired total budget: a “make-up #” $30 million off from the data within that very document and $43 million greater than the prior month’s reported total.
Atkinson claims she was instructed to override computer formulas and manually reduce cost variances to zero — obscuring millions of dollars of month-to-month reassignments of budgets and expenditures, often on projects completed as long ago as 2010. As such, budgets are retroactively altered to match actual expenditures, and then the alterations themselves are hidden by zeroing them out.
There is a $40 million gap between the figure Muni reports to the city controller and what it reports to the Federal Transit Administration regarding its spending on preliminary engineering.
A $17.1 million computer program purchased, explicitly, for budgeting the Central Subway project is going unused — in favor of Microsoft Excel…
An overrun delayed is not an overrun denied. The reckoning will come.

It turns out there’s a name for this practice: Transit expert and accountant Tom Rubin dubs it “the William Tell school of budgeting.” Rubin, the former CFO of AC Transit and the Southern California Rapid Transit District and a longtime Central Subway skeptic, scoured documents supplied to SF Weekly by Atkinson and came away with the following assessment of Muni’s financial planning for the massive project: “They fire the arrow at the barn and then draw the bull’s-eye around where it hits.”…

…By March, even the feds were aware that this multi-billion dollar transit endeavor was being budgeted on Microsoft Excel — the same program used to tabulate rent and groceries in apartments throughout San Francisco…

In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment…. (more)

This can’t help the reputation of San Francisco’s most controversial agency and disliked agency. This allegations may also affect legal issues winding their way through the courts. Stay tuned…

RELATED:
Covering Their Tracks: The Central Subway Project Buries Millions in a Deep Dark Place Muni Instructs Employees How to Contact Whistle-Blower Program Following SF Weekly Story on Muni Whistle-Blower

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s