A Washington state internal audit of the Columbia River Crossing’s finances released to The Columbian on Tuesday found the $37.8 million in payments it made to David Evans and Associates over the last two years appear clean.
But the audit, conducted by the state Department of Transportation’s internal auditors, also cautioned project officials to better define who monitors the millions in spending, clearly document the approval process and confirm that money flowing to contractors matches work agreements with contractors.
“Based on our internal audit work, the CRC has controls and processes in place to monitor consultant payments and ensure work performed meets agreement terms,” Steve McKerney, director of the internal audit, wrote to top CRC staff Tuesday. “Through the audit of the internal controls, overall the payments we reviewed appeared to be appropriate.”
The audit — which focused on payments to the CRC’s major contractor and subcontractors — is the first of three WSDOT is expected to complete in the coming weeks. The work was requested last July by CRC Director Nancy Boyd as she took the helm of the project.
Boyd sent the results of the first audit to Southwest Washington legislators and lawmakers on state transportation committees, and said she welcomed the feedback.
“As a project team, we agree with and support the findings and the recommendations to enhance our practices,” she wrote.
Making tough calls
As to those who would call for a totally independent review of the project’s $144.5 million in spending thus far, Boyd said the state auditors don’t shy away from making tough calls.
“These guys are pretty independent, they really don’t do us any particular favors,” Boyd said. “They’re auditors. They take their business very seriously.”
Still, it’s not clear whether the audit will do much to assuage the concerns brought up by project critics, including Vancouver forensic accountant Tiffany Couch, who was hired by anti-toll activist David Madore to dig through the project’s finances.
Couch has delved through thousands of documents, and delivered her concerns to lawmakers in Oregon and Washington. She has questioned cost increases and accounting practices, as well as specific details about David Evans and Associates’ billing rate, and a markup on subconsultant costs totaling $1.4 million.
Couch did not immediately return a request for comment late Tuesday afternoon.
The Columbian has also reported on spending issues, including cost and time overruns. In January, an article found that David Evans and Associates had taken two years longer to finish environmental planning for the CRC than it said it would, and at a cost of $58.8 million — $35 million more than it originally estimated.
Approving the bills
The internal audit staff met with 12 CRC employees who monitor billing from David Evans and other subcontractors at different steps along the way.
The company got $37.8 million between July 2009 and June 2011; auditors examined 10 billings during that time period, amounting to $16.1 million.
David Evans sends a bill monthly, with hundreds of pages and work information that can span multiple job orders, the auditor noted.
Task managers with the CRC initialed invoices, but didn’t make it clear who reviewed which part, the summary found. And the budget and agreement managers weren’t consistent in initialing documents to prove they had reviewed certain forms.
Although managers did not sign or initial all documents, the audit still found that “overall the payments appeared to be appropriate.”
The audit also found that four of 160 billings from subcontractors didn’t match job descriptions on the CRC’s subconsultants rate table. It asked the project to “make payment for subconsultant labor rates and job titles as approved in the rate table.”
Boyd noted in an email to lawmakers that several of those recommendations were made in September 2011, and any more changes that must be made will be done within the month.
The state did not audit David Evans and Associates’ own cost records. However, that may be done under the state’s master agreement with the Portland company.
The next two audits will cover expenditure tracking and use of funds and also financial reporting. Boyd said the internal audit office will also develop an ongoing audit plan for the project.