New Jersey emmision test snafu : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Task force to probe testing, E-ZPass chaos Wednesday, February 9, 2000

By BRUNO TEDESCHI Trenton Bureau

If you were to believe the transportation agencies' news releases, 2000 would have been the year New Jersey motorists zipped through tollbooths with the help of an electronic payment tag, and spent less than half an hour waiting in line every two years for a high-tech emissions test.

Of course, things haven't turned out that way so far. And the state Senate on Tuesday formed a special committee, headed by a Passaic County Republican, to find out why contractors hired for almost $1 billion did not do what they promised.

Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco created a seven-member task force to investigate the awarding of contracts to Parsons Infrastructure and Technology Group and MFS Network Technologies.

Parsons was awarded a $488 million contract to design, build, and operate the Division of Motor Vehicles inspection stations. MFS was awarded a $500 million contract to install E-ZPass on the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike.

Neither company has delivered a working system on time.

Since the new test debuted Dec. 13, many motorists have been forced to wait in long lines while inspectors dealt with computer software glitches, equipment that doesn't work in cold weather, and an emissions test that takes longer than the old test.

MFS promised the state that E-ZPass would be up and running by January on both toll roads, but the company fell behind schedule and now expects the project to be completed by the summer.

"I think what we're trying to do is find out whatever we can about what happened in order to determine how the bids process can be changed," said Sen. Norman Robertson, R-Clifton, who will head the task force.

"It can't be a witch hunt and it can't be a whitewash," Robertson said. "It has to be a sober, frank, thorough investigation of what happened so that we can see what it teaches us for the future."

In his letter to Robertson, DiFrancesco outlined some areas that he wanted the task force to investigate, including the process used by the Whitman administration to design the contract, and the efforts made to seek potential bidders. DiFrancesco also asked the committee to explore how the bidders were qualified, how the proposals were evaluated, and the process for monitoring the contracts.

DiFrancesco also named Sens. Martha W. Bark, R-Burlington County, and Peter A. Inverso, R-Mercer County, and former state Treasurer Michael Horn, who will be one of two representatives of the public. Senate Minority Leader Richard J. Codey of Essex County will have the opportunity to name two Democrats, and another member of the public will also be chosen.

Robertson said the task force will hold its meetings in public, but he did not have a time for the first hearing.

Codey criticized the Republican leadership for failing to give the task force subpoena power, saying too much time will pass before relevant information about the DMV contract in particular will be made available.

"We need timely information and we shouldn't have to beg," Codey said in a statement. "We seek the authority to compel both testimony and the release of documents relevant to this debacle. Subpoena power also requires witnesses to swear they will tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

DiFrancesco said in his letter that he would ask the Senate to give the task force subpoena power if at any time during the investigation it hits a stone wall.

DiFrancesco made it clear that the task force was not conducting a criminal investigation that is "better left to other investigatory bodies."

In addition to the Senate investigation, the State Commission of Investigation and a three-person panel headed by the attorney general are conducting separate probes of different aspects of the inspection fiasco.

Attorney General John Farmer said Tuesday that his review will focus on why memos written by a subcontractor to the state warning of problems with the new inspection system were never brought to Whitman's attention.

Farmer has thus far selected only one of the other two members of his panel, but said the groundwork of the investigation has begun. The names of both members will be announced at a later date, he said.

-- Martin Thompson (, February 09, 2000

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