Austin American-Statesman: State should ask HNTB for a refund

The following editorial is from an editorial in today’s Austin-American Statesman.

A state disaster relief contract has itself been declared a disaster by federal auditors who recommend that Texas repay $9 million in overcharges collected by HNTB to administer disaster relief grants.

Federal auditors found instances of overbilling by the company and poor oversight by the state in putting the federal disaster relief money to work.

HNTB is a Kansas City, Mo.-based engineering firm the state hired to manage federal disaster relief money. No stranger to Texas, the engineering firm has earned $112 million from the Texas Department of Transportation for various projects since 2007. That amounts includes $38 million in consultant fees for Gov. Rick Perry’s proposed Trans-Texas toll road project, which hit a wall of public opposition and was eventually pulled down. Ray Sullivan, Perry’s former chief of staff, is a former lobbyist for the firm, as was the late Reggie Bashur, a Perry campaign adviser. …

In a series of reports that started last fall, the American-Statesman’s Brenda Bell reported on the slow pace of construction, cost overruns and other problems associated with the HNTB contract. The federal audit criticized the state’s oversight of the contract and wants $9 million in money the regional inspector general of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development says HNTB was improperly paid.

Bell asked the deputy commissioner of financial management at the state’s General Land Office, Gary Hagood, who cancelled the contract, why the state doesn’t demand HNTB pay the money back.

“We could,” Hagood replied, but said he seeks to avoid a monetary penalty altogether and is in negotiations with federal officials on that matter.

Should those negotiations fail, however, the state shouldn’t hesitate one minute to ask the firm to repay the money. To keep paying HNTB’s bills, the state has already reallocated $29 million in relief money it had intended to give to local communities. They should try to get some of that money back, and the audit findings provide plenty of justification.

via State should ask HNTB for a refund.