City audit finds issues with bidding, construction procedures at ABIA

British Airways inaugural nonstop flight from London, England to Austin, Texas operated by a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, arrives at Austin Bergstrom International Airport on Monday, March 3, 2014. (Jack Plunkett/AP Images for British Airways)
(Jack Plunkett/AP Images for British Airways)

Austin (KXAN) — A city audit of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport construction projects found issues with the city’s handling of certain low-bid contracts and design review, and city officials are making changes as a result.

The December audit noted city departments, including aviation, public works and capital contracting, generally followed best practices in most of the projects it examined, and no significant deficiencies were noted.

But auditors found issues with the Capital Contracting Office’s handling of a couple low-bid contracts they inspected.

In two of five examined cases of ABIA low-bid projects, the Capital Contracting Office received just one bid. Those two projects were 2012 terminal improvements, estimated at $5.5 million by the city, and Presidential Boulevard improvements, estimated at $3.5 million by the city, according to the audit and contract office estimate documents.

Low-bid contracts are intended to save money by selecting the lowest bidder among a pool of bids. The city’s contracting office oversees bidding and selection of vendors, the audit states.

“Generally, there is an increased risk the City will pay more for construction services if there are fewer bids,” auditors stated in the report.

You can read the entire audit here.

This graphic outlines the City of Austin's process for contracting and construction projects at ABIA.
This graphic outlines the City of Austin’s process for contracting and construction projects at ABIA.

A Texas guide for contract management says organizations should try to determine the reason behind single bids for low-bid contracts. The city did not have that process in place to make such a determination for the projects noted in the audit, said Rolando Fernandez, assistant director of the Capital Contracting Office.

Since the audit, the city has changed its process. On Dec. 1, the city implemented new procedures to give staff a process to manage single or no-bid situations. Staff will now contact previously interested contractors to find out why they did not bid on a given project and determine if the project should be rebid.

Also according to the audit, the Public Works Department’s project review schedules were not always followed and design quality control plans did not always include required documentation.

A good design review process “is important to the public because the public always needs to know that we are obtaining the best value for tax dollars that are spent,” said Howard Lazarus, director of the Public Works Department, in a phone interview.

Lazarus said the audit results were largely positive, and the Public Works Department would be working to address the issues through additional training and processes.

Lazarus also said his department underwent accreditation from the American Public Works Association and was found to be compliant with industry best practices.

Soaring passenger numbers 

The city conducted the audit, in part, because of several large and expensive airport projects that will address the ballooning number of travelers passing through the facility.

ABIA opened in 1999 at the former location of Bergstrom Air Force Base. In 2003, airport officials’ most aggressive traffic estimate projected 9.2 million passengers would use the facility in 2020. Traffic at ABIA has already blown past that estimate, according to the audit.

In 2014, nearly 11 million passengers passed through Austin’s airport, a 7 percent increase compared to the previous year.

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