The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey voted Thursday to require a construction company overseeing La Guardia Airport’s redevelopment to pay for an outside “integrity monitor” after it admitted to overbilling at the World Trade Center site. The board of the company, Tishman Construction Corp., is headed by Dan Tishman, who led a panel appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reassess the airport’s design. The company is a subsidiary of AECOM, a major consulting firm. The Port Authority’s board approved on Thursday the monitoring requirement in light of Tishman’s deferred prosecution agreement in December with federal prosecutors in Brooklyn. According to that agreement, Tishman admitted to fraudulently overbilling clients and agreed to pay more than $20 million in restitution and penalties. The company agreed to reimburse the Port Authority more than $400,000 as part of the agreement, according to the agency. MORE ON THE PORT AUTHORITY Port Authority Advances Major Projects March 24, 2016 Port Authority Grapples With Competing Transit Projects March 23, 2016 New York Subway System Can’t Keep Pace With Growing Number of Riders March 23, 2016 Leaks at Hudson Yards Station Rile MTA Officials March 21, 2016 A Tishman spokesman said the company thinks “the monitor is unnecessary because of robust protocols already in place, but will comply with whatever is required by our client.” “There has never been an assertion of billing problems at LGA,” said the spokesman, referring to La Guardia. In a joint venture, Tishman and STV Construction Inc. are managing construction related to La Guardia’s redevelopment. Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye said the integrity-monitoring firm would report to the agency’s inspector general, and he described the arrangement as a routine step. “We believe that’s a useful—and ought to be an effective—prophylactic device,” he said. The design panel that Mr. Tishman headed recommended changes to La Guardia’s configuration, including a new, $310 million central hall as part of a replacement of Terminal B. A Cuomo spokeswoman said the Port Authority’s inspector general would hire “independent, outside staff to ensure the integrity of all the work done at La Guardia.” She noted the Tishman-STV joint venture was chosen through a competitive bidding process in 2013, before the airport design panel was created. WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU Have something to say about an article in Greater New York? Email us, along with your contact information, at email@example.com. Letters will be edited for brevity and clarity. Please include your city and state. The monitoring resolution noted that Tishman Construction has “substantial ongoing contracts” with the Port Authority. The agency’s decision to subject Tishman to an outside watchdog comes as Port Authority Chairman John Degnan, the top New Jersey appointee on the agency’s board, has questioned the growing estimates related to overhauling La Guardia. The agency’s official tally of costs for La Guardia’s redevelopment stands at $5.3 billion, exceeding some previous estimates by more than $1 billion. Top New York officials at the agency have disputed the $5.3 billion figure, saying it is misleading because it includes work going back to 2004 and other costs.
TORONTO — Health Minister Eric Hoskins complained Wednesday about the billing practices of some Ontario doctors, who he said were taking hundreds of millions of dollars away from home care and other services. “Unpredictable and frankly out of control billing by some doctors is a problem that creates huge income for some doctors, but it leaves less for family doctors,” said Hoskins. “It leaves less for our salaried doctors in community health centres, it squeezes our ability to invest more money in home care and community care, and it robs of us of the capacity to responsibly plan our health care spending each year.” There are no caps on billings by Ontario doctors, “so they effectively set their own salaries,” and at an average of $360,000 a year are the highest paid in Canada, added Hoskins. But the unpredictable billing allows some specialists to earn several times the average, and forces the government to find millions of dollars on top of the $11 billion set aside annually for physician compensation, he said.
If the average Canadian consumer feels he or she has been overbilled in a business dealing, chances are they will question the overcharge and seek a refund. Not so with the federal government, apparently. According to a newly released internal audit for Public Services and Procurement Canada, the government is routinely overcharged by its contractors, and has been for decades. As indicated in a Canadian Press story in Tuesday’s Herald, the team of 30 government auditors, as of the last budget year, examined $7.3 billion worth of contracts and uncovered $72 million in potential “over claims and excess profits.” Only a small portion of the amount – $2.8 million – has been recovered. A public services spokesman said the remainder “is presently subject to negotiations.” One might assume the government, once informed about this massive overcharge, would be motivated to do something about the problem – to at least endeavour to avoid such overbilling in the future, if not seek some repayment. But the report noted: “Our current experience is that, despite the basis of payment provisions in the signed contract, there is reluctance to enforce the terms and conditions of these contracts and ask contractors to repay Canada.” That reluctance is because government departments would rather ensure the sustainability of service delivery than have an assurance that a fair price is paid, the report goes on to say. The trouble with that approach is it essentially allows the government – and thus Canadian taxpayers – to be continually overcharged for contracted services. When Canadian consumers are faced with such situations, they at least have the option of continuing to deal with a company that charges more, or switch to a firm that will do the job for less. With the money Canadians have handed over to the government through taxes, however, citizens have no such control. And if the people in government departments don’t treat the money – taxpayers’ money – with the respect it deserves, and are willing to toss it around without due consideration, it’s not just a waste of money, but also a slap in the face to Canadians who worked hard for that money in the first place.
Four Pittsburgh City Council members scolded the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority on Monday for ongoing customer service and billing issues — including in some cases thousands of dollars in incorrect charges and bills that fail to arrive — that have outraged constituents and monopolized their staffs’ time. Natalia Rudiak noted that her office still receives two to six PWSA-related complaints weekly, sometimes requiring several hours of attention. “It’s an inappropriate use of city taxpayer dollars to help navigate something that is an independent entity and not our responsibility,” she said. “We are simply relaying the anger that our constituency is relaying to us.” Interim Executive Director David Donahoe said a rushed “marriage” of a new billing system and new meter-interface units that use wireless technology to relay usage information caused incorrect billing, overwhelming customer service staff.
The federal judiciary has long faced criticism for charging fees for online access to public court records. A new class action claims a computer error caused the system to overcharge users. The Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER, system charges 10 cents per page to view documents. The system’s users—lawyers, litigants, reporters (The National Law Journal uses PACER) and the public—also pay 10 cents per page to view case dockets that list the documents and other case information. The system uses a formula based on the amount of data in the docket to calculate the equivalent number of pages. Plaintiff Bryndon Fisher, a Washington state resident represented by lawyers from Terrell Marshall Law Group in Seattle and Schubert Jonckheer & Kolbe in San Francisco, claims that a computer error causes the system to overcount certain information in the docket—specifically, the section of the page that lists the name and number of the case, the parties, and the lawyers involved. By overcounting that information, Fisher says, the system adds at least one additional 10-cent charge. Those extra dimes can add up, according to Fisher, who claimed that over the past two years he’s paid $37 in overcharges. A spokesman for the federal judiciary declined to comment on Monday. Noah Schubert of Schubert Jonckheer & Kolbe said in an interview that they hired “experts with advanced degrees in computer science” to analyze PACER’s billing system after hearing reports of overcharging. Those experts created models that showed that the system was incorrectly billing users, he said. “The statutes indicate that they’re only allowed to charge what is reasonably necessary to the public and so while there’s certainly a lot of debate about whether there should be charges to the public for using the system in the first place, we believe at the very least they should charge what they say they charge,” Schubert said. In two largely identical lawsuits filed on Dec. 28 and 29 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Fisher said he pulled up 184 case docket reports over the past two years and paid $109.40 for that access. He claims that if the judiciary had properly calculated the data in those reports, he should have only owed $72.40.