Over two decades the reports have become a must-read for state government junkies: State employees who drink on the job. Government travel money used for work commutes. Public official bribery schemes. Embezzlers.
But while the Bureau of State Audit's annual whistle-blower report holds state workers' illicit actions up to intense public scrutiny, their identities remain unknown even when they've been convicted of a crime.
"It's relatively simple," said BSA Chief of Investigations Steven Russo. "When we issue a public report, we have to keep confidential the names of those individuals. The law doesn't provide any exception."
Peter Scheer, executive director of the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition, calls the auditor's approach "a complete misapplication" of the law. The law's disclosure limits, he said, aren't aimed at "a situation where investigators in the course of an audit look into matters that have already resulted in an arrest, filing of criminal charges, a prosecution and a conviction."
By then, any investigation is finished and the damage to the convicted employee's career and reputation is done. "There's no reason to withhold their name," Scheer said.
Since 1993, the state auditor has exposed roughly $31.2 million in improper actions by state workers through investigations launched by tips in keeping with the Whistleblower Protection Act.
The law provides anonymity for government abuse tipsters and for witnesses and says the auditor "may issue a public report of an investigation that has substantiated an improper governmental activity, keeping confidential the identity of the employee or employees involved."
The auditor's report released this week withheld the names of state workers who abused their authority or mismanaged subordinates or state money but were not convicted of crimes. It also withheld the names of employees that auditors said were convicted in a quarter-million-dollar bribery scheme.
But other agencies react differently.
The Franchise Tax Board quickly responded to a Bee inquiry under the state Public Records Act by naming Terri Hudgies, who worked in the board's Los Angeles field office. Hudgies was convicted of taking bribes in exchange for issuing official letters without a required $15 to $20 processing fee.
A secretary of state's office employee who also worked in Los Angeles was convicted of the same scam. When The Bee asked the department for a name, spokeswoman Shannon Velayas cited the Whistleblower Act and referred the question to the state auditor.
The Employment Development Department reacted differently to an inquiry about one of its former employees.
Spokeswoman Patti Roberts referred The Bee to a 2011 U.S. Department of Justice press release detailing the sentencing of Rebecca Stoneking, a former EDD employee.
Stoneking was convicted and sentenced in federal court for her part in a scheme that illicitly paid out unemployment insurance benefits to unqualified individuals.
Last year, state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, pushed a bill to require government auditors to publicly release all reports that contain ironclad proof of wrongdoing. The measure also mandated those audits divulge the names of anyone who commits a "violation of the public trust."
Labor unions killed the bill in committee, Yee said.
"The way I was looking at it was that the public has a right to know," Yee said Friday. "Right now, state employees are shielded. Their behaviors are cloaked in darkness."
Yee said he may come back with a version of the bill next year that allows auditors to name dismissed employees or elected officials.
"We need to work with the unions," Yee said. "This is not about 'gotcha.' "
Freshman Assemblyman Adam Gray, the Merced Democrat who was recently named to chair the joint committee that oversees the auditor, said that he is open to discussing changes to the law or its application.
"I'm not sure if adding names provides value or not," Gray said. "We wouldn't put anything in place that discourages reporting bad conduct."