Reading a September 30 article by Patrick Anderson in the Providence Journal, one would think Governor Gina Raimondo had heeded the advice of an outside report commissioned by prior Governor Lincoln Chafee in reorganizing the state Department of Transportation (RIDOT). The personnel changes the administration made, however, arguably conflict with the Gordon Proctor & Associates report — contracted at $750,000 — and have the effect of shifting 40 planned hirings within RIDOT to the Laborers’ International union, the former employer of RIDOT Director Peter Alviti.
According to Anderson’s article, “Gordon & Proctor … highlighted RIDOT’s unusually heavy reliance on outside contractors and consultants,” leading Alviti to hire “40 new maintenance workers to allow the state to do jobs, such as road striping, that are now performed by contractors.” But the Gordon Proctor report does not address maintenance jobs or “contractors” for such work. Rather, it compares RIDOT with similar agencies in four other states on the basis of project development and management, not construction activity.
The report found that Rhode Island spends an average of $45.7 million per year on development and management consultants, which is more than 30% of the amount that it spends on “construction contracts.” If RIDOT matched its counterparts in other states, consultant expenditures would be between $5.4 million and $17.3 million.
Those expenditures occur despite the fact that RIDOT’s 68 development and management employees are only slightly behind the 74 in Maine and the 75 in Vermont, and far outstrip the 46 in a comparable district in Ohio. Notably, the report highlights RIDOT staff’s 35-hour workweeks as 13% lower than “the peer states.”
Nothing in the report suggests that the practice of hiring contractors to perform actual construction tasks is unusual.
Consequently, Gordon Proctor recommended that Rhode Island add “up to 20 additional staff” for project development and isolate some processing tasks, like permitting and responding to “public enquiries,” so that they do not distract project development and management personnel. A repeated theme of the report is that RIDOT should rely more heavily on its own development teams to build the institutional experience, because “project development is a skill that can be learned by an organization,” which becomes “ingrained,” “routine,” and therefore more efficient.
Whether or not the state’s fiscal year 2016 budget was constructed with the Gordon Proctor report in mind, it funded 40 new positions at RIDOT that appear to be in line with its recommendations. Most of the listed positions would have been associated with engineering in some way. Others — like a billing specialist, a training supervisor, and a supervising electrical inspector — may have addressed the problem of jumbled duties for development staff.
As part of her announced reorganization, however, Governor Raimondo replaced those planned hires with 40 road workers and related supervisors. The original 40 positions would have included four non-union jobs, 35 jobs falling under the representation of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (Council 94), and just one employee represented by a local of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. Now, all of the 40 new positions that the administration plans to fill will fall under the control of two locals of Laborers’ International.
Questions to the Raimondo administration about the reason for the hiring shift, potentially conflicting with the Gordon Proctor report, have not been answered for a week. Similarly, the administration has not responded to a question about the problematic perception of replacing project development jobs in a way that grows the membership of the former union of Director Alviti.