The Examiner and a few other outlets are reporting that Metro is spending $51.9 million on contractors:

Metro is relying on the consultants for situations in which the transit agency needs “scarce” skills for specific engineering work, analysts to generate independent studies or expertise in crafting contract requests, [Metro spokesman Dan] Stessel said. He said the agency is trying to use the consultants to efficiently get Metro through periods when there is a spike in demand for particular work.

“Where we are using consultants to augment in-house staff, we will try to hire personnel and develop them if we believe there is a long-term need for the skill,” he said.

That sure sounds like a lot of money. And there’s certainly an argument to be made that Metro could be aggressively hiring or training its own (ballooning) staff on how to perform more of the work the system requires. But reports are presenting the $51.9 million number without any context or comparisons.

I’m trying to find out what’s typical for regional transit systems to spend on outside consulting and contracts, and while Stessel tells me he doesn’t know how Metro compares to other systems, the $51.9 million “is less than 2 percent of our capital/operating budgets.”

Photo by Flickr user cuttlefish using a Attribution 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license