The State Worker

Long smoke breaks and a “do not hire” list: Audit details state worker misdeeds

State Auditor Elaine Howle on Thursday released a bi-annual report on state worker misconduct.
State Auditor Elaine Howle on Thursday released a bi-annual report on state worker misconduct. Sacramento Bee file, 2011

An executive at the Department of Health Care Services kept a “do not hire” list for almost two years that may have run afoul of anti-discrimination laws, according to an audit disclosing recent improper activities by state workers.

The health care executive appeared to be the highest-ranking state worker to be investigated in State Auditor Elaine Howle’s latest report on public employee misconduct.

Other examples included a parole agent who misused a state vehicle for her personal commute, a Caltrans analyst who spent about seven hours a week taking smoke and lunch breaks, and a university librarian who perused websites related to online video games for about 85 hours at work in a 13-month period. The audit does not name the individuals involved.

Howle’s staff estimated the misconduct detailed in the report cost taxpayers about $40,000 “in inappropriate expenditures related to the misuse of of state time and resources, inaccurate attendance records and improper payments.”

The “do not hire” list at the Department of Health Care Services caught the attention of auditors because it confused the executive’s subordinate managers.

It was a list of 27 names that a division chief first created in May 2014. The list did not include any other information about the rejected job applicants. As a result, auditors could not determine that people named on the list were not ruled out because of “non job-related factors or such illegally discriminatory criteria as race, religion or sexual orientation.”

Three managers also could not explain consistently how job candidates wound up on the list. One vaguely said a candidate would be added to the list if “something that she considered to be a ‘red flag’” surfaced. Another said candidates were put on the list if they had bad background checks or references.

The division chief told auditors that she created the list “as an efficiency measure.” After a department reorganization in 2012, she noticed that she interviewed a handful of job candidates more than once. To save time, she said she wrote down the names of candidates who she did not want to see again.

As a result of the audit, the Department of Health Care Services discontinued the “do not hire” list and compelled senior managers to participate in equal opportunity training from its Office of Civil Rights.

Another incident of serious misconduct took place at the Board of Equalization, where two tax technicians improperly helped a former colleague win business by steering companies in need of tax help to him. One of the BOE tax technicians also disclosed confidential taxpayer information, such as Social Security numbers, to the former colleague.

Both tax technicians were “misleading, evasive and dishonest” when they were confronted by investigators. The two employees escaped discipline. One retired; the other transferred to another state agency.

The audit includes eight other examples of employee misconduct, some of which reveal blatant misuse of state resources.

The video-game playing librarian, for instance, checked out more than 48,000 web pages that were not related to his work at California State University, Fresno. The audit “estimated that this misused time may have the cost university as much as $22,208.”

He told investigators he checked out those websites in his “downtime” after he finished his assignments early. The audit recommended that supervisors give their employees more tasks to occupy them during shifts.

At the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, a parole agent misused a state vehicle and failed to report that she was driving it for her commute to work. The state spent about $3,800 to lease and fuel the vehicle during periods when she should not have been driving it.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton. Sign up for state worker news alerts at sacbee.com/newsletters.

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