| L.A. AIRSPACE BLOG

Los Angeles World Airports could save money by relying more on city employees rather than contractors, more closely monitoring how much it pays for construction change orders, hiring a chief financial officer and reviewing its official car-use policy, according to a series of new audits.

Wendy Greuel, outgoing Los Angeles city controller, released them late Friday. Airport officials said they learned of them by reading media reports, and they said they were disappointed the airport's Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey was not given copies first.

"We haven't had a chance to read them," Michael Lawson, president of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners, said Saturday afternoon.

Los Angeles World Airports is a department of the city of Los Angeles, though it tends to conduct its operations independently -- in part because it is financially self-sufficient. The group operates Los Angeles International Airport, L.A./Ontario International Airport and Van Nuys Airport. The audit's focus was on LAX, the nation's third-busiest airport.

The first audit, conducted by San Francisco firm Harvey M. Rose Associates, examined LAWA's ongoing capital development program. Auditors found the airport operator could improve its transparency and accountability as it spends more than $4 billion to improve LAX. The biggest project is a $1.9 billion international terminal, which airport officials call "Bradley West."

Auditors found construction change orders recommended by project managers were overestimated by about 16 percent for the facility's gates.

"LAWA has not taken sufficient action to ensure that the (project delivery method) for the Bradley West project effectively analyzes subcontractor change estimates for accuracy and reasonableness," the auditors wrote.

The audit also questioned whether the city's Board of Airport Commissioners, whose members are appointed by the mayor, have enough of a say about which capital spending projects go forward.

"The (board) has limited involvement in the review and prioritization of proposed projects and is not involved in the assessment of initial project concepts or budgets," the auditors wrote. "Instead, these responsibilities have been assumed by executive staff and the board may have less than optimal involvement in major capital project decision-making processes."

Lawson, the board president, said he looks forward to reading the assessment.

"We will review it, and we will do what we can to address the issues raised," he said.

The second audit, conducted by Vasquez & Company in Los Angeles, looked at financial controls. Its report underscores that LAWA's policies and procedures are comparable to other government entities. But it also found some faults and stressed the need for LAWA to hire a chief financial officer to coordinate financial planning and budgeting. It also recommends LAWA create a more robust internal auditing system.

"We found that the Department's executive management lacks sufficient support and relies extensively on outside consultants in carrying out key modernization management functions," the auditors wrote.

The third audit was conducted by the City Controller's Office and focused on LAWA's fleet of 1,029 cars, some of which can be taken home by employees, including airport police officials.

Auditors said a more tightly controlled "take home" policy would help LAWA save money.

"While it is LAWA's discretion to determine which positions are provided a home-garaged vehicle, such decisions should be supported by a consistent policy that justifies the assignment," they wrote. "LAWA should develop more clear and consistent criteria for the home-garaged vehicle program that best meets the business needs in the most economical manner."

Greuel, who lost a campaign for mayor last month, leaves office at the end of June. But in a letter, she urged airport officials to closely examine the suggestions made by her auditors.

"I urge the department to act quickly on my recommendations to ensure that critical projects are completed as quickly and efficiently as possible," she wrote.