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E-mail deletions could slow probe

By Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff, 3/6/2003


Bechtel's mistakes drive up cost overruns, and company profits.

Bechtel's fee overruns
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History of the contract
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State officials overlook and excuse Bechtel's mistakes for a decade.

Cost recoveries initiated

Powerfull allies help protect Bechtel and its bottom line.


This series has generated strong response from the state, the public, and Globe columnists.
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On Feb. 20, 2003, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff issued a document disputing the findings of the "Easy Pass" series. Globe editor Martin Baron responded with a defense of the Globe's reporting.
Read Bechtel's statement
Read the Globe's statement


Building a reputation
Bechtel has never shied away from big construction projects, but worldwide achievements are accompanied by controversy.
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Review cites flaws at Big Dig
Cerasoli charges Big Dig coverup
$1.4b overrun known in '99
Firm rejects call to offset costs
'99 memos warned of tunnel leaks

Officials disclose more defects
Lawsuit raises Big Dig questions
State to reopen deal with Bechtel
Big Dig hires quality manager
US knew of hidden expenses
Big Dig overrun just plain big
SEC probers to target Big Dig
Big Dig review to target overruns
Turnpike, firm set deal on leak cost

Contracts to be reviewed


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On February 11, 2003, Globe reporter Raphael Lewis chatted with Boston.com readers about the Bechtel series.
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Beyond the Big Dig   What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery? A joint effort between The Boston Globe, MIT, and WCVB-TV explores.
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Big Dig managers testified at a State House hearing yesterday that they advise employees to erase all e-mail messages after just 30 days, a policy that will deprive state investigators of valuable evidence as they seek to recover millions of dollars lost in part to possible mismanagement.

''We consider e-mail to be an informal means of communication on the project,'' Albert Caldarelli, a state lawyer assigned to the Big Dig, told a panel of state officials in charge of making sure state records are properly maintained.

''Our policy is to regularly delete them after 30 days,'' Caldarelli said.

Stephen A. Fulchino, the state librarian and chairman of the panel, immediately challenged the policy. ''That probably doesn't meet our standards,'' he said.

William Cleveland, the assistant state archivist, said e-mail ''shouldn't disappear. The information should be saved according to the content.''

Later yesterday, Sean O'Neill, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which oversees the Big Dig, said the project's e-mail policy will be reviewed as a result of yesterday's hearing. The current policy of deleting e-mail, he said, was intended to save electronic storage space.

''We'll look at whether we can expand our storage capacity and at what cost,'' he said.

Lawyers and supervisors for the Turnpike Authority and the Big Dig's private-sector managers, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, appeared before the little-known Records Conservation Board yesterday because state officials have increasingly raised concerns that the Big Dig has failed to assemble a comprehensive documentary record of important decisions, such as the rationale behind using taxpayer funds to pay for management and design errors.

The long-maintained policy of deleting e-mails, regardless of content, appears to violate state policy. Alan Cote, the supervisor of public records in the Office of Secretary of State, said the Legislature has not enacted a law on preservation of e-mail, but he added that his office has promulgated guidelines. Those guidelines say e-mail that is substantive in nature - containing facts, policy, conclusions, for example - must be printed and stored in files along with paper memorandums.

Government agencies should review e-mail to make sure that evidence of the conduct of public business is preserved, he said.

''It's not complicated: any e-mail that contains substantive business must be printed and placed in the file with other records,'' he said. ''But none of that can happen if there isn't someone there to scrutinize the e-mail for content.''

Cote, also a member of the Records Conservation Board, said he expected a prompt explanation from Bechtel and the state's Big Dig representatives on their e-mail policy.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who summoned Bechtel before the board after a Globe series cited sloppy record-keeping, among other issues, said in an interview yesterday that there are two sets of records at the Big Dig: official paper records kept in files and unofficial electronic records deleted in a couple of key strokes.

''Actually, there is not distinction between the two sets of records,'' he said. ''Where there is a substantive communication, the records must he kept.''

Galvin said the importance of keeping e-mail has been seen in recent inquiries into the shuttle disaster, the church clergy abuse scandal, and various business accounting transactions.

''The records tell the story,'' Galvin said. ''All the records, including the e-mail.''

Marc Perlin, associate dean at Suffolk University Law School, said the duty of government employees to preserve e-mail is a rapidly developing section of the law. ''In today's world, e-mail is essential to building a case in any potential litigation,'' he said.

Governor Mitt Romney last week met in his office with the top executives of Bechtel/Parsons to discuss a new inquiry into whether Bechtel mistakes and mismanagement led to more than $1 billion in construction overruns on the $14.6 billion project.

After the meeting, the Bechtel executives pledged to cooperate with a single investigation into the firm's performance on the Big Dig, to be done by a private, independent engineering firm.

Howard Corey, Bechtel's administrative services director, said the project has accumulated more than 11 million pages of records since the project began in 1987.

Sean P. Murphy's e-mail address is smurph@globe.com.

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 3/6/2003.
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