Latest Port Authority report cost $1 million

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stand side by side during a press conference.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hired a consulting firm for $1 million to help a panel convened by the states' two governors analyze the embattled agency.

The contract with Promontory Financial Group L.L.C. raises the price tag of the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, which already had saddled taxpayers and toll-payers with millions of dollars in legal fees.

Gov. Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York released the panel's 103-page report on the future of the Port Authority late Saturday in a joint news release in which they announced they had vetoed a proposed legislative overhaul of the agency.

Lawmakers in both states responded with outrage, noting that the legislation had passed each house of both legislatures with overwhelming support.

Criticism of the report - and its cost - had mounted by Tuesday, as state officials and North Jersey mayors blasted the proposed suspension of overnight services for PATH trains running between New York and New Jersey.

Christie, a Republican, and Cuomo, a Democrat, created the panel in May in the aftermath of the bridge scandal, which erupted in January when documents surfaced linking two former Christie allies - including a Port Authority official - to what appeared to be a politically motivated decision to close lanes.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark is investigating the lane closures, which clogged traffic for four days in September 2013.

Christie has spent the last year trying to minimize the political fallout as he mulls a bid for the presidency in 2016.

The Port Authority awarded Promontory the $1 million contract in September "following a competitive solicitation process," agency spokesman Steve Coleman said in an e-mail.

"The contract calls for them to receive $1 million upon completion of all services," he said.

The Port Authority, which operates the region's bridges, tunnels, and airports, doesn't receive tax dollars from either state. It derives revenue from tolls, fares, and other fees.

On its website, Promontory describes itself as a "leading strategy, risk management and regulatory compliance consulting firm focusing primarily on the financial services industry."

The report says Promontory helped the panel compare the Port Authority's governance structure and internal ethics and transparency policies with recognized "best practices" at other large organizations. Promontory also analyzed the agency's assets, the report said.

A Promontory spokesman declined to comment.

As of August, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher L.L.P. had billed the Governor's Office $6.5 million to investigate the lane closures and represent the office in federal and state investigations.

A state legislative committee also hired the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block to assist with its investigation. The firm had billed the state about $1 million as of November, according to a report written by Republicans on the committee.

That report estimated the total cost associated with bridge investigations to be $8.8 million. WNYC has calculated a total of nearly $10 million.

The special panel's report released Saturday made a number of recommendations for overhauling the Port Authority, including hiring a single chief executive officer to replace the two top directors, shedding its real estate assets, and returning the agency to its core transportation mission.

"Pardon me, I'm laughing," New Jersey Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) said when told of the contract.

"I don't get it. A good portion of that report are things they are already doing. . . . The other things, like getting out of the real estate business, we have to pay someone a million dollars to tell us that? Or that we need a new tunnel under the Hudson River? I don't get it. That's just bizarre."

The legislation she sponsored sought to increase transparency at the agency by establishing a new Office of Inspector General and requiring the agency to submit annual audits, among other provisions.

New Jersey Democrats said Tuesday that they would try to override Christie's veto, though they have never succeeded in doing so. New York lawmakers would have to restart the legislative process at the start of a new session in January.

Weinberg said the panel's report did have value, though.

"It puts the governors and the Port Authority itself behind certain reforms that I think should be made," she said.


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@AndrewSeidman