Audit: Costly consultants hold key jobs in Honolulu rail agency

  • A rail car tops an elevated rail line in Waipahu in 2017. The Hawaii State Auditor said officials prematurely awarded contracts for Honolulu's commuter rail line a decade ago to minimize public criticism and show the project was moving along, but this dramatically swelled costs as plans changed. Cost estimates for the rail line swelled from $5.1 billion in 2012 to $9.2 billion last year. (AP Photo/Cathy Bussewitz, File)

HONOLULU — Private consultants hold key senior positions inside the Honolulu agency building the city’s rail line, yet the agency fails to consistently monitor their performance, the state auditor’s second report on the enormously over-budget rail line said Tuesday.

Those jobs include project director, who is responsible for the rail line’s design, construction and project budget. Another is the position responsible for overseeing all cost estimates and cost management.


The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation paid HDR Engineering Inc. about $9.6 million last year for the services of 19 employees in these jobs. That works out to $42,105 per month per employee or $505,260 a year for each worker.

HDR employees are paid and evaluated by their employer, not HART, the report said, and HDR doesn’t share employee evaluations with the agency. HDR employees oversee the work of other HDR employees as well as other consultants working for other private companies.

This leads to “‘consultants managing consultants,’” the report said. The agency, meanwhile, fails to consistently follow through and monitor HDR and HDR’s employees, it said.

“The buck all too often stops at the consultant, not HART,” the report said.

The auditor said HART explained that it hires consultants because it’s unable to find highly qualified candidates willing to accept a city salary. It also doesn’t want to hire workers and then have to terminate them once the rail line is built, the report said.

HART CEO Andrew Robbins, in a letter to the auditor, said the agency agrees its performance oversight and evaluation need to be strengthened. HART will replace consultants with city staff wherever possible, but the needs of the project must be considered, he said.

HDR told the auditor that “at no point” has it been considered by HART or others as “a cause of cost or schedule increases.”

The Hawaii State Auditor plans to issue two more reports on the troubled rail line, for which estimated costs ballooned to $9.2 billion last year from $5.1 billion in 2012.


The first report published last week found city officials prematurely awarded contracts for the rail line a decade ago to minimize public criticism and show the project was moving along, but this practice dramatically swelled costs as plans changed.

The state Legislature ordered the audit after it approved new taxes to cover the rail line’s budget deficit.

  1. paul January 15, 2019 5:24 pm

    disgusting corruption and government incompetence and lastly….this makes Honolulu nothing but another los angeles…Hawaiian culture is gone…..

  2. gary January 16, 2019 6:04 am

    when will people of the islands wake up, your tax and spend govt is NOT for the people, its for bigger govt, more pork projects that will balloon in cost,please wake up and vote these turds out of office or your childrens children will be in indentured servitude for their lives too….

    1. Billy Batts January 16, 2019 6:37 am

      I would love to see the pictures of these “Con-sultants”…….

    2. KonaRich January 16, 2019 6:47 am

      Sell off what you have, ship off what you want to keep and go some where you think is governed betta. Problem solved and stay away from what ifs. They just haven’t found the best boondoggle money pit for the big island yet, but they will.

  3. diverdave January 16, 2019 6:52 am

    Layers upon layers of consultants and mid level unaccountable managers, that way no one person can be blamed. That’s how the legal mafia does it.

  4. briala January 16, 2019 9:24 am

    $500K per consultant per year already seems expensive, but I have to ask, how much do the ones who can deliver the project on budget cost?

    1. numbah10 January 16, 2019 6:58 pm

      Why would they want such a competent consultant, dragging things out makes for $$$ to the unions.

      The longer it takes, the longer unions get the big bucks. Overtime is no doubt on the horizon.

      Outer island suckers, you are helping make the Oahu unions rich!

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