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Budget item eliminates forms showing DOT costs

Request to eliminate the forms came from the top of the DOT

MADISON, Wis. - A provision tucked into the state budget would no longer require the Department of Transportation to do a cost-benefit analysis of outsourcing projects before they would start.

WISC-TV has used the forms to investigate DOT spending since 2011, showing in February of this year that the state spent nearly $50 million more on private consultants, largely because the state didn't have the staff to do the work, when state employees could have done the work cheaper.

Now a provision put in the state budget by Republican leadership on the Finance Committee says the state doesn't have to fill out the forms anymore. The request to eliminate the forms came from the top of the DOT.

"We think the cost-benefit analysis forms have not been adding the value that maybe they originally were thought to add when they were first created," said DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb.

The forms, also called Act 89 forms, are named after the state law that required them. That bill was written and sponsored by Gottlieb when he was in the state legislature.

"I think it didn't work out the way we thought it would when we passed the bill," said Gottlieb in an interview Wednesday. "But let's think about: What was our objective here? Our objective was to be able to have the data we need to make a cost-effective decision about whether we want to do particular projects with in-house labor or whether we want to outsource those. That's the bottom line."

Budget item eliminates forms showing DOT costs

Gottlieb says he can get that by doing a look back at projects, as the state did recently before asking finance to approve 180 new engineering positions to make the department more cost-effective. But the State Engineering Association says that's too late.

"You can't have good government unless the public has the ability to look at what they're doing, not after they did it, but while they're doing it," said Ron Legro, spokesman for SEA. "That's good for managers, too. It provides some assuredness that they're headed down the right path before they make the step. Afterward, you can second-guess yourself, but it's done."

Gottlieb says he doesn't believe the department is losing transparency by getting rid of the forms, because the department will do its internal audit periodically to make sure it is doing the work cost-effectively.

WISC-TV asked Gov. Scott Walker's office whether he supports this provision. A spokesman said simply that the governor would review the budget in its entirety when it gets to his desk.

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