Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Getting the GAO involved in the California High-Speed Rail Calamity

The Federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) basically reports to the Congress. In California, that function is, more or less, performed by the Legislative Analysts' Office. The State LAO has previously reviewed the CHSRA documentation, including their several business plan versions, and found them wanting.  A lot!  However, the State Auditor is more directly responsible for the fiscal analysis, such as a Comptroller.  And, we need an up to date Audit of the CHSRA and its financial and business plans.

Since the LAO has only an advisory, not a decisive function, so far the California Legislature has ignored their recommendations, one of which is to shut this HSR project down.

You will recall that we have been saying that genuine and active opposition for HSR, particularly the rolling disaster in California, doesn't come from California, but from Washington.

The most recent examples of that are the recent second Congressional Hearing on this project, with a lot of criticism levelled at the state for perpetuating a project no one can afford, and now, an even more dramatic step has been taken by the House Republicans, eleven of them.  They are identified in the article, below, by John Cox.

This Republican caucus, including the Representatives from California, are asking for an audit. 

Note that the demand for another comprehensive audit is not being levelled at the State Auditor, Elaine Howle.  It's way past due.  My perspective is that it's because Governor Jerry Brown now has his thumb on the entire HSR review process within his Administration and he's not about to permit yet another critical analysis to work its way into the media.

That leaves the burden on the Federal GAO, noted for their political independence and professionalism.  We should agree that it is now quite clear that the House Republicans, both from in and outside California, are determined to end the California High-Speed Rail Project.

That's the good news.

McCarthy requests federal high-speed rail audit
BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer | Tuesday, Dec 20 2011 03:19 PM
Last Updated Tuesday, Dec 20 2011 03:24 PM

Rep. Kevin McCarthy joined 11 other Republican members of the House this week in requesting a federal audit of California's high-speed rail project.

Monday's letter asks the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, to dig into the $98 billion project's "viability and questionable ridership and costs projections."

McCarthy, the Bakersfield Republican and House whip who has become one of the project's biggest skeptics in Washington, D.C., proposed the same kind of study as part of a bill he introduced Oct. 7 to freeze federal spending on the project, which is supposed to begin construction in the Central Valley late next year.

The chairman of the rail project's governing board welcomed the proposed audit as "more than appropriate."

"As one of the largest projects in the country and as one of the largest job creators in the country, we realize this project deserves careful review," Tom Umberg, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board, wrote in an email Tuesday.

"We have no doubt that the newly released business plan along with the support of the governor of California, both senators from California and the president of the United States will demonstrate that this public-private partnership will not only pencil out but it will alleviate massive air and traffic congestion, benefit the environment and create a third alternative for millions of Californians and their travel needs."

Monday's letter proposes a study of not only the project's ridership and cost projections but how much public money might be required to operate the system; alternative investments in air travel, freeways and traditional trains; and any adverse impacts of eminent domain proceedings related to the project. It also requests a comparison of the project to other high-speed rail proposals in the United States.

"The California high-speed rail project of today is vastly different from the one California voters narrowly approved in 2008," the letter states. "Since that vote, the cost of building the system has more than doubled, the timeline has been pushed back over a decade, and no private investment has occurred."

Other members of Congress [in addition to Kevin McCarthy] who signed the letter to Gene Dodaro, comptroller general of the United States, are:

-John Mica, R-Florida, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; 
-Darrell Issa, R-Vista, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; 
-Bill Shuster, R-Pennsylvania, chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines & Hazardous Materials; 
-Brian Bilbray, R-San Diego; 
-John Campbell, R-Irvine; Jeff Denham, R-Atwater; 
-Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine; 
-Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks; 
-Devin Nunes, R-Tulare; 
-Gary Miller, R-Diamond Bar; and 
-Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita.

The bullet train project is proposed to link Anaheim and San Francisco with trains traveling as fast as 220 mph by 2033.

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