Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Sound Transit Didn’t Validate $17M in Security Charges

by December 19th, 2012

Violating the terms of its own contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office for security services, the regional transit agency serving King, Snohomish and Pierce counties failed to secure documentation to assure the validity of more than $17 million in related charges which it has paid since mid-2008. The finding comes in a a just-released draft accountability audit of Sound Transit by Washington State that will be presented at a meeting this Thursday of ST’s Audit and Reporting Committee.

In August, a Sound Transit internal audit found that King County Metro over-billed ST for more than $700,000 in para-transit services in the ST Link Light Rail footprint in and around Seattle, mainly by charging based on passenger bookings made – rather than actual rides provided. ST sought a billing credit and corrective steps were taken. In late October, a blistering performance audit by the state zeroed in on Sound Transit’s Citizens Oversight Committee, highlighting a series of ethical lapses and apparent conflicts of interest.

The new state report issued by the office of outgoing 20-year Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag, a Pierce County Democrat, found that under the contract with Sound Transit, the King County Sheriff’s Office was supposed to submit monthly invoices of one-twelfth of the annual costs of providing transit security and then at year’s end, provide a reconciliation showing total actual costs versus budgeted monthly costs under the contract.

But according to the state audit, Sound Transit “did not enforce this requirement. It allowed (the Sheriff’s office) to bill based on actual expenditures and did not require the agency to provide documentation supporting the actual costs involved (of $17,081,913). Moreover, the invoices were submitted semi-annually between 2008 and 2011, rather than monthly, and (Sound Transit) has not received invoices for the first nine months of police services in 2012.”

In the audit report, ST says it agrees with the state auditor’s recommendations that it should get a required year-end report from the Sheriff’s Office with sufficient details on security work actually performed, before issuing payments; and that it should train its staff in related contract requirements. The problem arose in part, Sound Transit says, because it asked the county that it be billed for actual monthly costs and when that occurred, supporting documentation stopped being provided.

The new state audit also found that due to additional instances of failed oversight, Sound Transit in a separate contract with a private security firm improperly paid $126,147 in late fees and another $191,525 in unallowable costs which mainly arose from unauthorized time-and-a-half for overtime. Sound Transit said in its reply in the audit that “unduly burdensome” payment coding procedures at ST that “delayed processing time” of payments to the vendor were responsible for the late fees, and that “process improvements” will be implemented to avoid such problems going forward.

The audit noted the late fees were included in the agency’s budget.

On the overtime issue, the agency said the contract was “incorrectly interpreted” by its staff and it will seek to recover costs not warranted.

The agency added, “Sound Transit and the public have received high level security services through these contracts.

Members of Sound Transit’s Audit and Reporting Committee are Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow (Chair), King County Council Member Larry Phillips (Vice-Chair), plus King County Executive Dow Constantine, Issaquah Deputy City Council President Fred Butler, Redmond Mayor John Marchione, Lakewood City Council Member Mary Moss, and Sound Transit Citizens Oversight Panel Chairman Stuart Scheuerman.

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