There is now an official Orange County Transportation Authority policy against buying unneeded computers.
An internal OCTA audit released last week on its project with Caltrans to widen the 57 Freeway showed that an OCTA official told contractors to buy two laptop computers for Caltrans engineers, even though the laptops weren't needed, couldn't connect to the Caltrans computer network and were kept in the engineers' homes.
On Monday, the OCTA board adopted rules aimed at preventing such purchases in the future.
In her January report, OCTA internal auditor Janet Sutter asserted that state workers, including Caltrans, are allowed to use only computers issued by their agencies for their work. Engineers on the freeway project had Caltrans desktops, which contain security protections, in their field offices.
The laptops supplied by the contractor weren't used in the field offices and were prohibited from connecting to the Caltrans network, the auditor's report states.
Even so, the unnamed OCTA project manager asked HDR Construction Control Corp. of Omaha, Neb., and Athalye Consulting Engineering Services of Lake Forest to provide the laptops, according to the audit.
"In addition, Athalye purchased a desktop computer for the OCTA project manager's use in the field office. Final ownership of this equipment is unclear and the agreement does not indicate disposition of furniture, computers, and equipment," the audit states.
When staff from the OCTA Internal Audit Department visited the field offices, they "learned that both laptops are kept at the homes of the Caltrans Resident Engineers. Both Caltrans employees acknowledged that the laptops are not to be used to access the Caltrans network," according to the report.
Minutes of the Jan. 25 meeting of OCTA's Finance and Administration Committee show that Cindy Quon, Caltrans director in charge of the Orange County region, said use of the computer equipment was investigated by Caltrans, "and it found that the equipment was used solely for project-related activities."
Gloria Roberts, Caltrans public information officer, said the computers were used "as a communications tool" to connect the Caltrans engineers to contractor and OCTA employes while "in the field." She said the computers were used for emails, schedules and contract information.
But the audit stated, "Since Caltrans engineers use their own desktops and the laptops are not used at the field offices nor allowed to access the Caltrans network, Internal Audit questions the necessity and reasonableness of the laptop purchases."
Joel Zlotnik, OCTA spokesman, said that at the time the contractors were asked to buy the laptops, OCTA didn't have "the policies and procedures in place to address the issues raised in the audit." New policies are being developed, he said.
"This is exactly why we have an internal auditor," said Zlotnik.
OCTA directors voted unanimously Monday to support recommendations from the auditor that future "consultant contracts should not be used to purchase items for Caltrans or OCTA staff when they are not necessary, reasonable or required in the contract."
In addition, the new rules state that contracts that require establishment of a field office should make sure that orders are reasonable, "and there should be direction on the final ownership and disposition of computers, furniture and equipment."
OCTA management, in its response to the auditor's findings and recommendations, agreed not to buy computers for either its own staff or Caltrans for use in field offices and said the laptop and desktop computers the consultants had to buy for the 57 Freeway project will be made available to other workers.
Overall, OCTA has $5 billion worth of projects either in development or under construction.
— TRACY WOOD