Saturday, January 22, 2005

Outside Auditors to Review MTA Project
A former official says he was forced out after reporting on glitches
in the agency's $29-million computer system.
By Caitlin Liu - Times Staff Writer

Responding to concerns over the independence of the MTA's audit department, Chief Executive Roger Snoble said this week that the agency would hire outside auditors to review a problem-plagued $29-million computer software project.

The announcement came two weeks after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's former chief auditor, William Bernsdorf, left his job after issuing a series of stinging reports contending management lapses in developing the so-called M3 information technology system. Bernsdorf alleges he was forced to retire.

The computer system is intended to coordinate the MTA's bus and rail equipment, order parts, schedule repairs and track work schedules. Portions were implemented at train and bus yards last year. Others are expected to be launched in the coming months.

Workers complained that the new software was causing robots to deliver wrong engine parts, botching simple math and causing workers to waste hours every day correcting its errors.

When the project was approved by the MTA board in 2003, it carried an initial price tag of about $24 million. The project cost now stands at $28.8 million, and MTA chief financial officer Richard Brumbaugh told MTA directors this week that the final tally would probably exceed $30 million.

The MTA inspector general's office has launched an investigation into Bernsdorf's claims that he was forced out by his supervisor, Brumbaugh, who also is responsible for the M3 project.

"He started interfering with the audits, directing what audits we should do, what audits we shouldn't do," said Bernsdorf, the former managing director of audits. "He gave me an ultimatum: 'Either get in line and follow my directions, or resign.' "

Brumbaugh said Bernsdorf's allegations were untrue. "His retirement had nothing to do with the audits. He was free to write whatever he wanted," Brumbaugh said.

Snoble said he expected an outside accounting firm to complete "a very comprehensive audit" of M3 by spring.

In the last year and a half, Bernsdorf issued four audits criticizing the MTA information technology department for lax supervision over software development. An April 2004 memo warned that M3's programming code was not being sufficiently tested, risking costly failures.

"These four audits raised some very serious issues," Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, an MTA director, said Friday. But some MTA executives have "totally denied the summary of the audits."

Brumbaugh and other MTA executives say M3's problems are being successfully worked out.

"Every day, we are resolving issues as they come about," Brumbaugh said. "The project is actually going very well."

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