Holding the Government Accountable

Digger Deeper Into the Big Dig Boondoggle

Longtime POGO fans might recall our 1995 investigative report entitled, "No Light At the End Of This Tunnel: Boston's Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project." POGO helped expose the lack of federal oversight of the project as well as design flaws and wasteful spending. In 1997, POGO proposed that federal spending on the project should be cappedand Congress listened, imposing an $8.549 billion funding cap. The project now stands at $14.6 billion and is in its 15th year of construction.

Despite increased federal oversight, problems continue. We have seen or heard reports of leaking tunnels. Now reports of fraud and coziness have come to the forefront.

On May 4th, the Transportation Department Office of Inspector General issued a release stating that six Big Dig employees were charged by a federal grand jury in a 135-count indictment. The indictment returned against the six employees of Aggregate Industries NE, Inc., "the largest asphalt and concrete supply company in the New England Region," charged them with "conspiring to defraud the United States by generating and submitting false records to the Central Artery Tunnel Project ('Big Dig') and mailing fraudulent invoices to general contractors on this government funded highway project."

Last week the Boston Globe reported that Big Dig contractors were "chipping in at least $190,000 toward a gala dinner" honoring "two top state officials responsible for supervising the firms" work on the trouble-plagued project. The Globe's report stated that "[t]he sponsors include Bechtel Corp. and Parsons, Brinckerhoff Inc., the two engineering behemoths that formed a joint venture to design and manage the Big Dig. They are locked in a legal battle with the state over a claim for $108 million in refunds."

No matter the reason for the gala (a Big Dig completion party or engineering scholarship drive), it provides another example of government officials in comfortable relationships with those they regulate or oversee. With the Big Dig approaching 100% completion, we ask again,: Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Or should I ask, are impressions of impropriety the norm in government/contractor relationships?