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Re: CalTrans Screw Up

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Bill Allen wrote:

> The issue I have the problem with is not of technical nature but of the
> managerial decision making by CalTrans.
> Either the welds are O.K. or not O.K. If they are O.K., then the contractors
> should be paid. If the welds are not O.K., they should be fixed. If the
> contractors did not do the welding according to the specifications as shown
> on their bid docs, they should correct the welds at their own expense. If
> Caltrans discovered that there were flaws in the specifications, then
> CalTrans should issue a change order to direct the contractors to repair the
> welds.

Hmm.  In ideal world, your solution would be great, and in fact we'd all like to
see things come out that way.  Unfortunately, though, the real world rarely
offers situations that "clean."  Many factors may come into play here.  I do not
know anything about the facts in this case and have no connection with Caltrans,
but working in state gummint would allow me to make some guesses about factors
that *might* play a part in the Caltrans decision.  The first possibility that
leaps to mind is that the cost of correcting the welds might be way out of
proportion to the cost of the original work, like, for instance, that all of the
bars that were exposed for welding are now embedded in concrete.  The welds
might be inadequate, but might provide some of the strength they were supposed
to.  In that case, attempting to force the contractors into compliance would
inevitably wind up in court, where the argument would quickly devolve into one
of those "did not, did too" arguments.  If the case involved a number of
contractors, they could all band together, so they would have economic resources
way beyond the capabilities of the legal staff of the DOT, who likely have way
more work than they can handle already.  The case could drag on for years.

Over the years I've seen a number of similar cases go to court.  The DOT loses
way more than its share of even the most egregious cases of contractor error,
because the juries see the DOT as the big, bad guy, picking on the poor innocent
contractor who's only trying to make a living.  The juries don't tend to
understand that the contractor is picking *their* pockets, they just see a case
of "us" (which includes the contractor) versus "them" (the evil, wicked, mean
and nasty, omnipotent government, which as we all know, is run only by
incompetents bent on ruining the lives of "us").  Add to this potent mix the
political pressures brought to bear on DOTs by the legislative, judicial, and
executive branches of government, as well as the business community, and the
ubiquitous willingness to leap immediately into criticism of government workers
your comments provide an example of, and it's a wonder government works at all.

Another factor might be that the public continues to demand "less" government,
which translates into a weakened ability to take on such a battle, due to
reduced staffing and budgets.  If this factor applies to the case, your remarks
would represent another of those interesting cases where the public insists on
less government and lower taxes, yet expects the same level of service to
continue.  Ain't gonna happen, folks.  Something's gotta give.

In summary, I would add to the previous comment that unless you know the FACTS
of the particular case in question, perhaps you should give CALTRANS a break.
Try assuming that CALTRANS' management is competent and that they are trying
their best to do the best job they can for the taxpayers within the framework of
constraints under which they must attempt to function.  Such an attitude would
make a refreshing change for those of us who work in government.