Report faults DRPA for not instituting reforms

Changes DRPA agreed to in 2010 included an end to free bridge trips for its employees.
Changes DRPA agreed to in 2010 included an end to free bridge trips for its employees. (TOM GRALISH / File Photograph)
Posted: June 16, 2012

Many of the reforms adopted nearly two years ago at the Delaware River Port Authority have not been translated into daily practice, the agency's new inspector general says.

The governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania demanded changes in 2010, and the DRPA board responded with a well-publicized flurry of new rules designed to make the agency more accountable, transparent, and fair.

"Most of the reforms have not been incorporated into the authority's bylaws" and standard operating procedures, Inspector General Thomas W. Raftery 3d wrote in a report to the DRPA board's audit committee.

No uniform ethics policy has been established for DRPA commissioners from the two states, and DRPA does not maintain copies of commissioners' financial-disclosure forms, Raftery said.

Despite a requirement that companies doing work for DRPA disclose political contributions, Raftery said, "until recently, authority policy required that the disclosures be submitted in a sealed envelope, placed on file in the general counsel's office, and not reviewed."

"This does not appear to be the intent of this reform resolution," Raftery wrote.

Three reform resolutions dealing with contracts and purchases have led to "considerable confusion" and should be reduced to a single, clearly defined resolution, he added.

Raftery detailed his findings in a report that also examined the DRPA's financial support for the Battleship New Jersey on the Camden waterfront.

Gov. Corbett, chair of the DRPA board, wants to deal with the stalled reforms "as quickly as he can," DRPA spokesman Timothy Ireland said.

"But this is a bistate agency, and this has to be done in a way that reconciles the practices on both sides of the river," Ireland said. "A lot of practices were reformed pretty quickly, and they're not that easy to implement.

"Every single one of these is a pretty big lift."

New Jersey legislation

On Thursday, a New Jersey legislative committee approved bills to reform DRPA and two other Delaware River toll-bridge authorities: the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which operates the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which operates seven toll bridges in Bucks and Mercer Counties and northward.

"These are commonsense reforms, some of which are already being put into place by the agencies," said Assemblyman Paul D. Moriarty (D., Gloucester), a sponsor of the bills. "Codifying the changes in law will give commuters peace of mind and make it that much harder for unscrupulous individuals to undo the reforms in the future."

The legislation, which now can be scheduled for a vote by the full New Jersey Assembly, would prohibit free bridge passes and other perquisites for agency officials and employees, and would bar the employees for two years after leaving the agency from working for any company that does business with DRPA. Identical legislation proposed last year did not pass the Legislature.

In summer 2010, Gov. Christie and then-Gov. Ed Rendell demanded sweeping changes in DRPA governance to end perks, make the politically connected agency more open, and reform its "pay-to-play" culture.

Sparked by revelations about free E-ZPass bridge trips for a DRPA official's daughter, the housecleaning eventually included adoption of nearly two dozen resolutions to end free bridge trips for employees, generous car allowances for top officials, hiring of executives' relatives, closed-door board meetings, and political work on DRPA time.

The changes also included rules to establish ethics policies, tighten contracting rules, require DRPA vendors to disclose political contributions, and increase transparency at the agency. The board proclaimed an end to economic-development spending, but it still spent the last of $500 million in already borrowed economic-development funds until the money was tapped out in December.

Implementation

Adopting resolutions and changing practices have proved quite different things, the inspector general found.

"Interviews with authority staff revealed considerable confusion and frustration with the lack of guidance in implementing these reforms," Raftery wrote.

"There has been no training provided to commissioners [and] staff on the new reforms," and their terminology is not consistent with the terminology used at the DRPA, the report noted. The agency's staff said its input had not been requested when the reform resolutions were being prepared, Raftery wrote.

"It is recommended that these reforms be reviewed, clarified, and consolidated so that the reforms are clearly understood by the commissioners and staff.

"It is further recommended that these reforms should be incorporated into the authority's bylaws and [standard operating procedures]," he wrote.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner, chair of the DRPA audit committee that received Raftery's report, praised the inspector general's investigation on Thursday and said the board should implement his recommendations.

The board might need to take "additional formal action to back up the inspector general's recommendations," and should direct top staff to end "the feet-dragging on implementation of things like a uniform ethics policy and political contributions by vendors," he said.

Some reforms, such as the end of economic-development spending, will require changes to the agency's federal charter, and that will require action by both states' legislatures and approval by Congress, said Ireland, the DRPA spokesman.


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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