Blaming the Victim?

I wrote yesterday that the bid-rigging scandal is a “huge black eye” for the Department of Transportation, which was perhaps premature. The details of the case will bear on that.

Yesterday, the Bloomberg administration managed to get into Channel 4′s second story that this was a joint investigation with the FBI and the Department of Investigations which put out a 6:17 p.m. press release calling the investigation “longstanding.”

The best I could determine from a source familiar with the matter is that “longstanding” means “years.” Unclear how many.

Channel 4 reported that the scam may go back to the late years of the Giuliani administration. In the best case for Bloomberg, the fraud was suspected in, say, 2000 or 2001, and was only allowed to continue for the authorities to gather evidence. In the worst, “years” means “two years,” and the city was ripped off for half a decade before the feds caught on.

The question is whether it’s fair to (partially) blame the victim, DOT, here. Is the apparent situation, in which DOT relies entirely on two contractors for street lighting, and is ripped off by them, the sort of thing that could have happened just as easily in the private sector? Or is it a function of, at the very best, shoddy oversight and a relaxed attitude toward public money? We’ll find out.