Because of pressure on the federal bureaucracy by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Utah Transit Authority was able to cut through red tape and slip under a deadline Wednesday to save $324,000 on the purchase of 36 new buses.
The UTA will now buy the buses for a total of $5.4 million - about $150,000 each - from MCI Corp. of Canada with money from two federal grants from the Urban Mass Transportation Agency.But red tape almost forced the agency to miss the Wednesday deadline for the deal, which would have forced it to pay an additional $9,000 per bus - or $324,000 extra, said John Bennett, an aide to Hatch.
He explained that to receive Urban Mass Transportation Act grants for the buses, the UTA had to be certified by the U.S. Labor Department as complying with the act's labor protection provisions - including having a mechanism in place to solve disputes with labor unions.
Problems came because UTA's dispute-solving mechanism - binding arbitration - had been ruled unconstitutional for public agencies in Utah. When the UTA tried to switch to "fact-finding" to solve labor disputes, unions objected.
After months of study and urging by Hatch to hurry, the Labor Department recently ruled the UTA was in compliance with the law.
But needed paperwork for the certification would not have been ready in time for the bus deal. So Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Labor Committee, pressured the department to finish the paperwork by close of business Tuesday.
That allowed the purchase to go ahead on Wednesday, Bennett said.