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Who Else is Los Angeles Paying $200+ an Hour?

We recently reported that we’d found private contractors working for the City of Los Angeles who earn Bell-like salaries. We’ve done a little more digging on the City’s website and easily found ten more City contracts that clearly reveal that the rates charged by private contractors are far higher than any public employee would ever receive for the same job.

A few examples:

The rate for a private Structural Engineer is $257 per hour.

The rate for a private engineering Project Director is $287 per hour.

The rate for a private Geologist is $225 per hour.

Some of our critics have correctly pointed out that these fees are what contracting companies charge on behalf of their employees, not necessarily what the workers themselves make. But this argument misses the bigger picture.  

First, we have no way of knowing how much the individual worker makes because private contractors are neither accountable to the public, nor compelled to reveal their inner workings, the way the City is. (Want to see how much public employees make? Just click here or here.)  

Additionally, no matter who gets the money in the end, the City is still paying private contractors huge sums that are several times greater than those paid to public workers, even when you include health, retirement and other benefits. To use an earlier example, the rate for a computer consultant for engineering behemoth CH2MHill, Inc. is $260 an hour, whereas the rate for a top-earning Senior Systems Analyst II employed by the City is just $60 an hour. Ideally we’d hear a compelling reason for the discrepancy in pay, but we may never get to the bottom of it because, again, private contractors are not required by law to reveal their practices.

Second, and more importantly, the City is not overseeing these private contracts. The City’s public database of contracts is woefully incomplete and Controller Wendy Greuel recently released an audit in which she explicitly stated that “the City is lacking the essential controls and oversight necessary to ensure that hundreds of millions of dollars expended through contracts are really the most efficient and cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars.”

Greuel’s report found that in one-third of cases, no review was ever performed “to determine whether outsourcing was the most cost effective and efficient option.” (Not insignificantly, that statement doesn’t mean that in the two-thirds of cases where reviews were performed, outsourcing was the most cost effective and efficient option.)

In sum, the widespread use of private contractors by the City of Los Angeles is a practice that makes a mockery of the concept of public accountability. Even in the case of Bell, the officials’ outsized salaries were a matter of public record, even if that record was overlooked. When it comes to private contractors, the record doesn’t even exist.