Keep light shining on rail


POSTED: Thursday, October 29, 2009

The City Council assigned the city auditor last year to examine contracts with a longtime city contractor for work on the rail transit system, but he has found nothing improper. To the contrary, auditor Leslie Tanaka found compliance with federal, state and city requirements, which should satisfy Council members.

That is not to say that the audit was unjustified. PB Americas is an arm of the London-headquartered engineering firm formerly known as Parsons Brinckerhoff. 'Iolani School graduate Wayne Yoshioka, named the city director of transportation services in 2007, had been a senior transportation engineer at the company.

PB Americas won an $86 million city contract last year for a preliminary engineering report and the final environmental impact of the rail transit. It had previously been awarded $10.2 million for work on the draft environmental statement.

Yoshioka, who is in charge of the rail project, told the Council early last year that he would recuse himself from any financial decisions involving the company. The audit found no evidence of Yoshioka reneging on that arms-length promise.

Auditor Tanaka, a Council appointee, wrote that his office interviewed officials from two engineering firms about “;the perception of favoritism”; in the bidding process. The officials, not named in the audit, “;expressed frustration that the city's previous contract awards to PB Americas over the past 12 years seem to have placed the company in a favored position with respect to future contracts.”;

One question city transportation officials asked of companies bidding for contracts was whether they would have a project office in Honolulu, Tanaka added.

“;While this factor does not explicitly prevent other firms from submitting bids,”; Tanaka insinuated, “;this has the effect of diminishing the chances of companies other than PB Americas with the same technical capabilities, but who would have incurred additional expense to build a greater presence in Honolulu, possibly having to increase bids as a result.”;

Parsons Brinckerhoff does have an office downtown on Bishop Street. Still, it is hard to imagine a company with a multi-million-dollar project in Honolulu not opening an office in the city.

The city Department of Transportation Services understandably took issue with the auditor reporting statements by officials from two engineering firms “;that they were discouraged from bidding on future projects as a result of their experiences with the city's procurement process.”; Tanaka found no impropriety in that process — but responded that “;the views of prospective offerers”; are valuable to the public in evaluating the process.

They are indeed. With so much at stake as the $5 billion rail project moves forward, such scrutiny and transparency are vital to keep the public trust.