By Kevin Bogardus - 10/19/07 06:31 PM EDT
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) wants an inspector general investigation and congressional hearings into whether one company has a monopoly on providing traffic data to state and local agencies with the help of federal funds.
“As you may be aware, TTID program has long been controversial because it has supported a monopoly for a single company, Traffic.com,” Weiner wrote to DoT’s inspector general, Calvin Scovel III.
Traffic.com has often been a target of Weiner’s. In 2005, Weiner and other lawmakers supported an effort by Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchMedicare trust fund running out of money fast Long past time to fix evidence-sharing across borders Overnight Tech: Facebook's Sandberg comes to Washington | Senate faces new surveillance fight | Warren enters privacy debate MORE (R-Utah) to attach an amendment to the transportation authorization legislation, known by its common acronym, SAFETEA-LU.
The provision was designed to open up competition for the traffic data program after several competing companies complained that the Wayne, Pa., firm was enjoying market dominance thanks to targeted earmarks placed in prior bills, such as a $50 million earmark that then-Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) added to the defense authorization bill in 2001.
Hatch’s amendment created a second phase to the traffic data program, known as Part II, which would allow other companies to compete for the state and local traffic contracts. Funds slotted for Part I would remain committed to Traffic.com.
But two years later, more than $56 million has been slated for Traffic.com’s contract, leaving only $5.5 million left over for Part II contracts that cover only two cities, according to a March letter by Transportation Secretary Mary Peters. In addition, 11 new cities are negotiating or have signed up under Part I, while none have committed to Part II.
In the face of that evidence, Weiner wrote in his letter that Hatch’s provision has been ignored by DoT and that Traffic.com continues to hold a monopoly on traffic data. Further, Weiner alleges that DoT responded to several strongly worded letters Hatch had written earlier this year with “falsehoods.”
Specifically, DoT’s general counsel, Rosalind Knapp, said the majority of the TTID program’s funding went to Part I because Hatch’s amendment required DoT to complete the original contract. But Weiner said that assertion was incorrect.
The Hill shared Weiner’s letters with representatives of Traffic.com. In response, the company offered a statement touting its achievements, such as providing 500 jobs across the country.
“We would be pleased to discuss these successes with Rep. Weiner or any other person who has questions about the program,” said Traffic.com.
"We welcome any review of the statue in the 2005 surface transportation law that expressly requires the Department to complete its original contract for the Transportation Technology Innovation and Demonstration project," said Brian Turmail, DoT spokesman.
No decision has been made as of yet to hold hearings on the TTID program, said an aide to DeFazio.
“We received the letter and are currently reviewing the request” and “always try to be responsive to congressional requests,” said Madeline Chulumovic, director of congressional and public affairs for DoT’s Inspector General’s office.
Weiner wants to examine, for example, whether the TTID program’s contract solicitation put out by DoT for one city was “blatantly wired for Traffic.com.” Consequently, many companies refused to submit bids.
Competing companies have also complained to DoT’s inspector general about the solicitation. In his letter to DeFazio, Weiner said at least two companies have written to the inspector general and asked for an investigation.
At least one of those companies did not mince its words. Doug Finlay, chief executive officer for San Jose, Calif.-based SpeedInfo Inc., wrote that DoT’s misapplication of the program has “created major competitive barriers in our industry.”
Along with Weiner, Finlay alleges that DoT has ignored Congress’s intent in regard to Hatch’s amendment and asks for a “thorough and comprehensive investigation” by the inspector general.
A prominent government watchdog group has also weighed in. This week, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) also wrote to Peters requesting an inspector general investigation. Several members of Congress were copied on the letter, including DeFazio, Hatch and Weiner.
“It is just worth an inquiry,” said Scott Amey, POGO’s general counsel.
Amey has been following the Traffic.com issue for years and has filed several Freedom of Information Act requests with DoT. He said the company raises “red flags” since it has several former senior government officials working for it.
“Is this program really benefiting the public, or is the contractor making out like a bandit?” asked Amey.
[This article was updated from the print version to include DoT's comment, which was provided after deadline.]