I rarely hear from contractors, but when I do, they say very interesting things.

A California contractor who’s helped build public schools for 25 years sees an increasing tendency for inspectors to play architect and/or engineer instead of ensuring work is being done as specified and approved. These “rouge inspectors,” he says, can increase project costs by 50% or more.

“The inspector of record (IOR) is supposed to be watching the trades as the job is being built (actually in the trenches, roofs, etc.),” he wrote. “They’re supposed to verify all material, hardware, and components. Instead, they’re in their trailers doing research on products and processes they know nothing about.”

The IOR position was created to provide continuous inspection; the project isn’t supposed to stop for an inspection to be conducted.

Instead, “it appears they’re doing their best to drag the job out as long as they can. They come out once or twice a week and make subcontractors take down what they’ve built because they don’t like something.”

The problem has been compounded in recent years by less-experienced contractors being awarded work because theirs was the lowest bid.

He says general contractors are afraid to say something for fear of retaliation, whatever that means.

When he contacted the Division of the State Architect, he was told “there has been talk about setting up a review process.” In addition to overseeing design and construction of state-owned and -leased K–12 schools and community colleges, the division develops accessibility, structural safety, and codes and standards used in public and private buildings statewide.

He concedes this could be a California-only issue, but suspects that’s not the case. So he’d like insight from public agencies on how to deal with this issue. Thoughts? E-mail me at sjohnston@hanleywood.com.

Infrastructure, seriously

In the meantime, if you haven’t seen it, watch the March 2, 2015, episode of HBO’s late-night series "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Infrastructure." The tag line: “America’s crumbling infrastructure: It’s not a sexy problem, but it is a scary one.”

In 20 brilliant minutes, Oliver summarizes what Public Works readers are up against every day. And, yes, he addresses the issue of inspections, or, rather, the lack of them in some states. The segment should be required viewing for every civil engineering student in the nation. Enjoy! Or laugh because it hurts too much to cry.