The Delta tunnels project was just gaining steam, and a San Francisco engineering firm had outbid its competitors to win a $60 million, seven-year state contract to help plan the project.
But officials at the California Department of Water Resources weren’t happy with a manager that the company, URS Corp., had assigned to help oversee the planning process.
What the state did next was the focus of a highly critical state audit released Thursday. State Auditor Elaine Howle charged that DWR directed URS in 2009 to replace its employee with the president of a Sacramento consulting firm that lacked the qualifications to do the job, in what amounted to a no-bid multimillion-dollar contract that ran afoul of state contracting laws intended to ensure public dollars aren’t being wasted on unqualified firms.
A whistleblower cited in the audit raised questions about whether DWR – an agency in charge of overseeing billions of dollars of state water infrastructure as well as Gov. Jerry Brown’s $17.1 billion tunnels project – is routinely giving sweetheart no-bid deals to contractors without vetting them.