BOSTON-The inspector general of the US Department of Transportation is considering an audit of the process by which the Big Dig, the massive highway construction project here in the heart of the city, pays its contractors for extra work.

While local published reports term the DOT’s consideration an “investigation,” Peter Babachicos, a project manager at the DOT’s office here tells that he wouldn’t call it an investigation or even an audit. “We’re doing research, he says. “It’s preliminary work and we haven’t decided whether to proceed with an audit.”

One billion dollars in claims charges have already been paid out to contractors on the Big Dig, according to Sean O’Neill, spokesperson for the Big Dig. Approximately $1.2 billion in claims issues need to still be considered. Historically, about half of what is claimed by the contractor is usually paid. “We are well within our negotiation range,” O’Neill tells

Babachicos insists that nothing prompted the DOT’s decision to start looking into the claims process. “Claims are an important issue,” he says. “We’ll make a decision on whether it’s worth doing an audit.” An audit of the claims process was last done in 1994.

The approvals process for claims and changes on the Big Dig has recently changed. Until September, two representatives from the Turnpike Authority and one representative from the Federal Highway Authority would sign off on the claim. After September, the claim went to the board members of the Turnpike Authority and their lawyers. It is unclear why the change in process was made.

But O’Neill says that he is not worried about the DOT’s plans. “We look forward to working with them,” he says. “There is a great deal of oversight on this project,” he notes referring to the federal highway authority, the state highway authority and Price Waterhouse Coopers, the accounting firm.

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