The Big Dig — Truth and reconciliation | Robert Cerasoli

A total lack of financial oversight

By Robert Cerasoli
October 3, 2010

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FINANCIAL OVERSIGHT needs to be a major component of any public building project. But in the case of the Central Artery Third Harbor Tunnel Project in Boston, oversight was never contemplated nor provided for when the Legislature initially funded the project in the late 1970s. No thought was given to picking a monitor that represents the interests of the taxpayers and sees that the project would be delivered on budget and on time.

The state inspector general’s office did not even exist at that time. It should have been evident that the largest and most expensive public works project in the history of North America would require special oversight to see it through to completion. As inspector general of Massachusetts, I wrote several reports on the problematic history of this project. But one of the biggest lessons we can learn from the Big Dig is to insure that funding for the oversight of future public projects is built into the initial funding of each project.

These funds can be set aside for use by the inspector general, state auditor, and the attorney general to set up a joint plan to monitor, audit, and investigate a major project from inception to completion. These agencies are aware that they are on the hook for positive and forceful action when problems surface, but they are always forced to redirect limited funding from other priorities every time a new project has been funded by the Legislature. Oftentimes, these agencies are placed in a strict detection mode after problems arise.

Money spent on prevention is worth 10 times the money spent on detection. Prevention saves money up front, but prevention can only be used if money for it is readily built into the front end of a project. If the Legislature would simply earmark 1 percent of the funds already appropriated for any new public works project to an oversight fund for the inspector general, state auditor, and attorney general, the taxpayers will not have to learn the lessons of the Big Dig for a second time.

Robert Cerasoli was inspector general of Massachusetts from 1991 to 2001.

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