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TribBlog: Holding Out for a TxDOT Hero

Lawmakers have said it before, and today they said it again: Sweeping top-down change is needed within the Texas Department of Transportation.

A view from the backseat.

Lawmakers have said it before, and today they said it again: Sweeping top-down change is needed within the Texas Department of Transportation.

At a House Transportation Committee meeting Wednesday, transportation commissioners and representatives from Grant Thornton, the Chicago-based consulting agency that compiled a $2 million TxDOT audit, testified about what could fix the TxDOT's cultural and operational woes.

A point of contention with the Grant Thornton report was that it criticized TxDOT's administration but not the Texas Transportation Commission. Committee Chairman Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said this was surprising, but Susan Pentecost, a representative from Grant Thornton, said day-to-day responsibility was the job of management.

Following up on recommendations that TxDOT focus on more than just highways, state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, asked if the auditors had found "a champion for high-speed rail" or any other issue within the Transportation Commission. They had not.

In light of the report, Pickett repeatedly called for immediate and drastic action. “We expect nothing less than to prioritize the low hanging fruit,” he said. “We have to do more than what was done in the '80s and '90s. It has to be more than a response to an audit report.”

While the majority of the blame was placed on TxDOT managers, commisioners would not commit to new management.

Multiple committee members expressed a loss of faith in the department and said management from outside of TxDOT needs to be brought in. State Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, even raised the idea of at least one full-time commissioner overseeing “sweeping change.” Pentecost said it would be "difficult for that person to come from within [TxDOT].”

State Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, said he was flabbergasted that commission members could read the Grant Thornton report and consider leaving the existing TxDOT leadership in place.

“You can't have it both ways,” state Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, told the commissioners. “You can't say they've done a lousy job, but that they should stay and implement changes. ... At what point do you accept the responsibility that they didn't meet [expectations] because you didn't make them?”

Transportation Commissioner Ned Holmes, of Houston, said in a prepared statement that TxDOT has lost the respect of the Legislature and public over the years and that responsibility falls on the commission.

Still, commission members, who will determine TxDOT's response to the audit, did not commit to a timeline for changes. Holmes said the next step was for the commission to build a team to address TxDOT management problems. He said he hopes that will take place before the next transportation commission meeting on June 24. 


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