Transportation Department officials confirmed at least part of a charge that the Chicago Transit Authority was over-billing taxpayers, although a watchdog group probing the issue still suspects that a “politically-motivated cover up” is masking the extent of the problem.
“The Chicago Transit Authority collected more federal aid than it should have after inflating mileage covered by its bus routes, the U.S. Transportation Department said,” Bloomberg reported yesterday. “The Federal Transit Administration in April ordered the Chicago system to revise its 2011 tally of revenue-producing miles, which helps determine U.S. funding, and to change the way it counts mileage from now on, FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff said in a statement.”
Cause of Action, a conservative-leaning government accountability organization that has been investigating the CTA’s over-billing, reported last week that it had “uncovered the potential of up to $150 million in taxpayer funds being improperly awarded to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) due to CTA’s potentially fraudulent reporting dating as far back as 1982 and possibly continuing to the present.”
CoA faulted Rogoff for not doing more to fight the over-billing. “FTA is revealing that it had knowledge of overreporting occurring, and by conducting a review of only 2011, it ignored the 2007 report presented by auditor Thomas Rubin that showed the same potential actions happening in fiscal year 2006,” said CoA executive director Dan Epstein in a statement.
Noting that the Transportation Department flouted a Freedom of Information Act request from CoA, despite a federal requirement it respond, Epstein added that “there is clearly a politically motivated cover-up happening at the Department of Transportation.”
In it’s report, Epstein’s organization noted that Senior Advisor to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, chaired CTA from 1995 to 2003 and was receiving deferred payment for that work as late as 2009. CoA also noted that Transportation Department General Counsel Robert Rivkin worked as general counsel at CTA from 2001 to 2004.
“Rivkin and Jarrett weren’t aware of the U.S. investigation and neither played a role in the outcome, the Transportation Department said in a statement,” Bloomberg noted. “While at CTA, neither person had any involvement with bus-mileage reporting, which was handled by the staff, said Brian Steele, a Chicago transit agency spokesman.”