Romney plans changes in Big Dig cost panel
By Raphael Lewis, Globe Staff, 3/27/2003
fter moving to control efforts to recover millions of dollars lost to Big Dig design and management mistakes, Governor Mitt Romney now has made overtures to several state and federal agencies that were chafing at being left out of the process.
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The strategy shift, coming just days before climactic legislative hearings about cost overruns on the project, may finally clarify a confused situation in which the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, the Legislature, the Federal Highway Administration, and others have been jockeying to grab a share of the political credit.
In February, after the Globe ran a series of articles detailing failings in the Big Dig's cost-recovery mechanism, Romney said he would create a panel of lawyers, accountants, and engineers to oversee a private firm that would work on commission to ferret out costly errors and seek reimbursement.
The plan, however, required cooperation from the Turnpike Authority -- an independent entity that Romney has promised to dismantle for cost-saving purposes. Romney also needed the Legislature, which would have to pass a statute giving him the legal authority to proceed, but stood to gain no political capital if money ultimately was recovered.
Still, according to several Beacon Hill officials with knowledge of the administration's cost-recovery plans, Romney forged ahead confidently, asking retired Bank of Boston CEO Ira Stepanian to chair the cost-recovery panel. Also asked were Cathy E. Minehan, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, former transportation secretary Frederick P. Salvucci, and Elliot M. Surkin, a real estate lawyer with Piper Rudnick. All either declined to comment to the Globe or did not return calls.
Legislators, however, have expressed concern about the idea of private-sector oversight because of the potential for conflicts of interest. Stepanian is an unpaid member of an advisory board to Intercontinental Real Estate Corp., a private equity firm, along with Thomas P. O'Neill III, who also owns the lobbying firm hired by Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, which manages the Big Dig. And Salvucci created the commission that selected Bechtel for the Big Dig back in the late 1980s.
Now, the administration appears to be modifying the panel to include a wider array of public entities. In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, state Transportation Secretary Daniel Grabauskas said the administration wants a panel of representatives from the Federal Highway Administration, the governor's office, and the state auditor's and inspector general's offices.
Grabauskas did not offer details of the proposal, but Beacon Hill insiders said yesterday that, in a quiet agreement between House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, Senate President Robert Travaglini, and Romney, Finneran and Travaglini would nominate the state auditor and the state inspector general to the panel. The federal highway agency would appoint representatives, and Romney would provide state development chief Douglas Foy and perhaps other panelists, including some or all of the private-sector people he'd already picked for the job.
However, state Senator Marc R. Pacheco, who runs the powerful Post Audit and Oversight Committee, and who will chair next week's cost-overrun hearings, said he was assured the Romney administration would not move forward publicly on the cost-recovery issue until after the hearings.
Steve Bailey of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 3/27/2003.
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