Report I2005-1 Summary - March 2005

Investigations of Improper Activities by State Employees:

July 2004 Through December 2004

HIGHLIGHTS

State employees and departments engaged in improper activities, including the following:

  • Improperly paid 25 nurses at four institutions $238,184 in premium pay associated with inmate supervision.
  • Improperly received $3,067 by submitting false claims for wages and travel costs.
  • Allowed employees to live rent-free at a state facility, resulting in a personal benefit to the employees of at least $10,920.
  • Improperly divulged confidential information.
  • Violated conflict-of-interest provisions by hiring an employee who also owned a company that had a $554,000 contract with the State.
  • Purchased transit passes for family members via a state-subsidized program.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

The Bureau of State Audits (bureau), in accordance with the California Whistleblower Protection Act (Whistleblower Act) contained in the California Government Code, beginning with Section 8547, receives and investigates complaints of improper governmental activities. The Whistleblower Act defines an "improper governmental activity" as any action by a state agency or employee during the performance of official duties that violates any state or federal law or regulation; that is economically wasteful; or that involves gross misconduct, incompetence, or inefficiency. The Whistleblower Act authorizes the state auditor to investigate allegations of improper governmental activities and to publicly report on substantiated allegations. To enable state employees and the public to report these activities, the bureau maintains the toll-free Whistleblower Hotline (hotline): (800) 952-5665 or (866) 293-8729 (TTY).

If the bureau finds reasonable evidence of improper governmental activity, it confidentially reports the details to the head of the employing agency or to the appropriate appointing authority. The Whistleblower Act requires the employer or appointing authority to notify the bureau of any corrective action taken, including disciplinary action, no later than 30 days after transmittal of the confidential investigative report and monthly thereafter until the corrective action concludes.

This report details the results of the 11 investigations completed by the bureau or with the assistance of other state agencies between July 1, 2004, and December 31, 2004, that substantiated complaints. This report also summarizes actions that state entities took as a result of investigations presented here or reported previously by the bureau. Following are examples of the substantiated improper activities and actions the agencies have taken to date.

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

In violation of state regulations and employee contract provisions, the Department of Corrections (Corrections) improperly paid 25 nurses at four institutions $238,184 in premium pay associated with inmate supervision between July 1, 2001, and June 30, 2003. Corrections paid these nurses a premium even though they either did not supervise inmates for the minimum number of hours required or they lacked sufficient documentation to support their eligibility to receive the increased pay. For 17 of the 25 nurses, Corrections reported that it could not provide documentation to support the pay increase it authorized because the institutions that employed these nurses either had no inmate supervisory hours to report, did not require nurses to track these hours, lacked sufficient documentation to support the hours claimed, or had destroyed all timekeeping records relating to inmate supervision. Although Corrections provided figures showing that the remaining eight nurses did incur inmate supervisory hours, we found that in most instances these nurses failed to accrue the number of supervisory hours required to qualify them for the premium pay.

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SERVICES

An employee improperly received $3,067 by submitting false claims for wages and travel costs. By misrepresenting departure and return times on travel and attendance reports, the employee received $1,894 for overtime and regular hours not worked. The employee also claimed and received $1,173 for expenses related to travel that she did not incur or was not entitled to receive. Specifically, the employee claimed $253 for parking expenses she did not incur, improperly claimed $151 in mileage reimbursements by routinely overstating the distance to and from the airport when conducting state business, received $259 for meal expenses she was not entitled to receive, and improperly received $510 for travel expenses she claimed on days she did not work or that otherwise were not allowed.

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

In violation of state law and department policy, the Department of Veterans Affairs (Veterans Affairs) allowed at least three employees to live at the Barstow Veterans Home (home) rent-free, resulting in a personal benefit to the employees of at least $10,920. Despite having previously reported to us that it adopted policies in December 2002 establishing rental rates for employees who lodge at the home, Veterans Affairs failed to notify the home of such policies. As a result, the home continued to allow employees to stay in vacant resident rooms free of charge. It was only after we inquired about the matter in April 2004 that the home began charging the appropriate rent to employees who lodged there.

DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE

In violation of state law governing an individual's privacy rights, the Department of Finance (Finance) improperly disclosed confidential personal information when it published the names and Social Security numbers of state employees in a procedure manual (manual) that is distributed throughout the State and is available on the World Wide Web. After being notified of its breach of confidentiality, Finance revised and distributed the manual and removed the confidential information from its own Web site and any Web search engines that may have archived the information. Finance also revised its procedures to prevent violations of this nature in the future and began taking steps to notify individuals affected by the improper disclosure.

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA

The University of California, Santa Barbara (university), violated state contract law and its own policy when it hired an employee who also owned a company under contract for services in the amount of $554,000 with the university. Payments against the contract totaled $161,961, of which $128,366 was paid subsequent to the employee's hiring. After we brought this matter to its attention, the university terminated its contract with the employee's business in August 2004 and developed policies designed to prevent such conflicts from occurring.

DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES

A manager at the Department of Motor Vehicles (Motor Vehicles) engaged in time and attendance abuse and failed to perform her duties. Motor Vehicles found that the manager routinely arrived at work late or left early and, while at work, was seen frequently playing card games on her personal computer or sleeping. The manager also took advantage of her position by bringing her child to work with her, and letting the child watch television or play games in her office. In addition, Motor Vehicles concluded that the manager failed to perform her supervisory duties by not taking appropriate action to stop unsuitable behavior among staff. Motor Vehicles demoted the manager and placed her in a position with clear oversight and supervision over her day-to-day activities.

DEPARTMENT OF PARKS AND RECREATION

A supervisor at the Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks and Recreation) used her state vehicle to transport her child to and from school and to transport groceries she had purchased from the local supermarket while on duty. Parks and Recreation also determined that the supervisor, whose duties include responding to emergency situations, used her state car to transport her child to school on at least one occasion after having received a verbal warning from her supervisor to refrain from such conduct. Parks and Recreation reduced the supervisor's pay by 5 percent for two months for misuse of state property, willful disobedience, and behavior that is of such a nature that it causes discredit to the department.

DEPARTMENT OF GENERAL SERVICES

A Department of General Services (General Services) employee inappropriately used a transit voucher to purchase transit passes under a state-subsidized program for use by his family members, who are not state employees. The employee admitted that he had used the state-subsidized transit vouchers to purchase youth passes for his children on two occasions. General Services discussed with the employee the inappropriate nature of his use of transit vouchers and told the employee he would be required to reimburse General Services a total of $130, representing the cost of two $65 vouchers.


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