Former UDOT employee Leone Gibson retired in September 2012, but instead of cruising into the easy life of golf and mall-walking, she took the express lane right back into the private sector in a job that had her working for UDOT again—this time, as part of a $518,841.63 contract to fill the role of her former assistant.
Gibson had worked as the director of UDOT’s Public Transit Team, which administers federal funds to state public-transit projects. UDOT had hired a replacement for Gibson, but decided to contract with an outside firm to do the work of Gibson’s assistant, who’d left PTT earlier in 2012 to take a job at the Arizona Department of Transportation.
The firm that eventually won the contract was H.W. Lochner, the private transportation-engineering firm that had hired Gibson after she left UDOT. She was familiar with the company, having awarded a $149,769 contract to the firm in 2012, according to public records.
Documents accessed through a public-records request show that H.W. Lochner has been awarded $39,947,173 in contracts from UDOT since 2009, covering projects for PTT and other aspects of UDOT, including engineering and construction, across the state.
H.W. Lochner included Gibson as part of the team it assembled in its pitch to PTT; the firm won the $518,841.63 contract in February 2013 for a period ending in April 2014.
The salary of the UDOT employee H.W. Lochner replaced was $39,707.
UDOT spokesman John Gleason says that though Gibson had worked with H.W. Lochner and awarded contracts to the firm when she was director of PTT, the decision to contract with the private sector to take over PTT responsibilities was made after her retirement.
“She didn’t have anything to do with preparing the proposal on this side or making the decision that we were going to go the consultant route,” Gleason says. “Those decisions were made after Leone had left.”
As of press time, neither Gibson nor H.W. Lochner had returned comment for this story.
Gleason adds that the contract decision reflects a general UDOT policy to seek contract work on projects dependent on federal money.
“If there’s a potential of a program being downsized or being underfunded or discontinued altogether, many times we will look for opportunities to hire contractors on those projects so if a program is underfunded or cut or discontinued altogether, we wouldn’t have to lay people off,” Gleason says.
UDOT annually distributes $7.5 million in federal funding to PTT, which advocates for the needs of disadvantaged residents during the planning of statewide transportation investment decisions, provides public transportation in rural parts of the state and allocates federal grants for the statewide planning and research program.
And according to the contract documents signed by H.W. Lochner on Feb. 20, 2013, there is nothing in the agreement that restricts the firm from using knowledge gained through PTT work to bid on other state- and federal-funded transportation projects, potentially giving the firm an inside scoop on future contracts and an advantage over other bidders.
UDOT denies Lochner’s involvement would give them an unfair advantage, writing in a follow up statement that “The PTT management and consultants hired to assist follow all federal laws in managing and selecting those who receive federal funding. ... It should also be noted that in [August] 2013, [the Federal Transit Administration], as part of their regular review processes, completed an on-site audit of our program and how it is managed, etc..., and we were found to be in compliance, with minimal findings to address.”
The agreement between UDOT and H.W. Lochner says that the private firm is responsible for managing federal grants, but Gleason says that UDOT higher-ups would have the final say on contract decisions.
Gleason says that H.W. Lochner “would be in a secondary role on the projects,” and that the firm advises the PTT manager, filling in at the assistant level.
“The manager would have some say in [awarding contracts],” Gleason says. “ As far as a consulting group—absolutely not.”
Still, as co-manager, H.W. Lochner would advise the manager; according to Gleason, when Gibson was PTT manager, she awarded contracts.
Gleason notes that the contract was part of an open bid process and says that Gibson’s experience was an obvious advantage for H.W. Lochner’s bid.
“She was definitely an asset to that team,” Gleason says.
In H.W. Lochner’s bid documents for the $500,000 contract, Gibson’s bio says she “is immediately available to complete full-time, day-to-day oversight responsibilities for the UDOT PTT as Co-Program Manager and Contract Administrator.”
According to Gleason, Gibson was paid a salary of $53,497 when she worked directly for UDOT. While the contract documents did not disclose how much Gibson would be paid for the PTT contract, it listed her as one of three H.W. Lochner staffers who would be splitting $363,752. Among those staffers, one would work 48 hours, another would work 1,400, and Gibson—listed as “program manager”—would work 2,080 hours. Gibson will also be provided office space at UDOT’s office, according to the contract.
Gleason notes that there’s nothing against contract rules in selecting a firm that employs a former UDOT employee.
“Leone worked here for several decades and was well respected, and she was a great manager,” Gleason says. “Basically, when you work in government and decide to retire, maybe you’re gone completely, or maybe you can continue to pursue your career in other venues—there’s nothing wrong with that.”