It’s the day after the Port Authority released an audit of the agency and Chris Ward is sitting calmly in his new office above Bryant Park.
Coming off of more than three years as its top New York executive, Mr. Ward has no illusions how the bi-state agency is run.
The audit last week cited mismanagement at the Port Authority and spiraling costs at the World Trade Center site, findings that aren’t exactly revelatory. Swelling budgets have been a long-running problem at the complex site and criticisms have been lobbed before at the sprawling agency’s byzantine structure.
To the politically cynical, the findings were a way for governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie to distance themselves from the inevitable overruns at the World Trade Center site as well as the unpopular toll and fare hike last year by the agency early in their tenures.
One thing is immediately clear: It won’t impact the consensus on Mr. Ward’s time at the Port Authority, which is widely hailed as one of the key reasons behind the progress at the WTC site.
“Government has to reinvent itself all the time,” Mr. Ward said. “Good for them for raising questions about the Port Authority. All I can say is, imagine what the audit would be, what the conclusions would be if the world looked at the site on the 10th year anniversary and it wasn’t complete and President Obama was working his way through an incomplete site and the families were there and it’s been 10 years and the memorial was not done.”
Such is the contradictory and sometimes absurd nature of public service, where memory of the overwhelming mandates Mr. Ward and his colleagues at the authority faced when he stepped in as executive director in 2008 can give way to scrutiny over the evasive actions they were forced to take. Building in the expeditious manner that was required to get the memorial done in time for its big moment in the national eye was more expensive. But in the pressured years leading up to anniversary, who among both the government and public would have been willing to accept failure to meet the deadline in exchange for cost savings?
“The alternative was incredibly worse,” Mr. Ward said. “From 2008 to 2011 we completed the memorial, we solved the Larry Silverstein issues, we signed Condé and did a deal to have the Dursts invest $100 million into the building. And the site now has all of this progressive momentum. In 2008 people thought the project would never get built. Now it’s a done deal.
“I think you have to be a little perverse to enjoy major league public service,” Mr. Ward added with a smile.