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Embarrassing auditor report identifies WSDOT incompetence

A security flaw allowed an employee working at WSDOT's Good to Go customer service center to steal account holders' credit cards and use them to rack up charges as part of a larger scheme that stole nearly $64,000. (WSDOT)

In Governor Jay Inslee’s ardent defense of “hard-working” former Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, we were supposed to believe she was fired for being associated with a Democrat’s administration. Today, we have even more evidence that WSDOT, under her leadership, was embarrassing.

Surprise. Another damning report on tolling in Washington. The State Auditor’s office released a performance audit this week and it further confirms what I’ve been arguing: WSDOT has no idea what it’s doing.

Related: Does Lynn Peterson firing signify war in the state Senate?

There were dozens of serious concerns, some of which are:

1. Lots of systems don’t work: The Good to Go! pass reader doesn’t always work, resulting in drivers being hit with a 25-cent fee they don’t actually owe. The license plate image capture system missed around 400,000 automatic toll transactions. WSDOT said it wasn’t a problem with the system, but the auditor’s office found that this was mostly due to bad camera aim.

2. WSDOT doesn’t care about your privacy: The report claims WSDOT has not enforced some basic information security standards with the toll system vendor, putting our private billing information at risk. In fact, the vendor did not complete an independent audit required by the state until after the state auditor completed its review.

3. The toll collection and reporting system is bad. Seriously bad: The toll system can’t verify billing information that people enter into the system. This has led to 175,800 toll bills and notices going to wrong addresses. The only way to verify the accuracy of toll transactions and reporting is to “rely on time-consuming manual report reconciliation.” And even though it was recommended to WSDOT that they implement “robust collection activities” before penalizing people for being late on payments, they weren’t proactive until recently. Not to mention, they don’t have automation systems to review their finances. The toll system has a flaw that “has made it difficult to create or amend toll bills.”

4. WSDOT didn’t pay much attention to “key business functions”: The report rips WSDOT management. It said WSDOT focused limited attention on hiring staff with the expertise to develop and manage the toll system. In fact, they argue that “More attention to these leadership and management activities would have helped…”

You should read the report. It’s long, but shocking in how it displays the ineptitude of WSDOT staffers. Patty Rubstello, the assistant transportation secretary for tolling, seems to dismiss a lot of the concerns, telling The Seattle Times that improvements are underway.

Oh good. Incompetent people ensuring competent systems are in place.

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