The State Worker

Audit reveals California state employees’ misconduct

A Caltrans engineer played dozens of rounds of golf during work hours for 19 months while management approved his time sheets without knowing what he was doing, according to a new audit that highlights some state employees’ poor behavior.

The legally mandated report by State Auditor Elaine Howle catalogs the results of investigations prompted by whistleblower complaints. It doesn’t name individuals, but it does detail, among other things, how employees misused state resources, accessed sensitive data to benefit friends and family and wrongly received excess pay and leave time.

In the case of the Caltrans engineer, auditors found he played golf for parts of 55 workdays between August 2012 and March 2014. He got away with it, according to the audit, because his supervisor “neglected his duty to ensure the subordinate engineer’s time sheets were accurate.”

The subordinate engineer admitted he golfed “as much as possible,” according to the audit, but only on weekdays “if he worked at night that week or if he had already accrued at least 40 hours for that workweek.”

His time records, however, “showed that he regularly worked an eight‑hour day shift, five days a week,” the audit states.

The engineer was reassigned to another Caltrans division in April 2014, but went out on a one-month medical leave. Confusion ensued. Two Caltrans supervisors each thought that the engineer was under the direction of the other, leaving him unsupervised for one month when he returned from leave. Regardless, a district manager ordered the approval of the engineer’s May time sheet, according to auditors, despite no assurance that it was accurate.

Caltrans has since reminded employees that they must adhere to time-sheet submission and approval rules and told auditors the Caltrans district in question has “noticed improvement” in that area. The engineer has retired. His supervisor planned to retire this month. Caltrans said it would note the investigation in both employees’ files for consideration should they apply for other state positions.

At the Department of Industrial Relations, auditors determined that, for seven years starting in 2007, an office services supervisor in Southern California used his state computer and state email account to sell copied DVD movies and duplicated music CDs. He also allowed “customers” to view catalogs in the workplace during work hours.

The same employee also used state time to exchange “sexually suggestive emails” with “his friends and co-workers” and for more than a year used department resources to print materials for a co-worker’s fitness studio.

The unnamed employee resigned a few days after he was asked about his activities. Industrial Relations and the employee agreed he would leave without anything about the investigation going into his employee file, which kept “other state agencies from knowing that the supervisor misused state resources if he were to apply for a position in state service,” the audit states.

“In December 2014 another state department appointed the supervisor to a position,” auditors noted.

In response to the audit, Industrial Relations officials said they didn’t put a note in the employee’s file out of concern it would violate his collective bargaining and civil service rights. The department also told auditors that it issued a reminder to employees about its email policies and that state property cannot be used for personal purposes.

Another audit found that an accounting officer at the Employment Development Department “used the prestige and influence of her position to assist friends and family who had pending unemployment and disability claims, and to adjust a family member’s tax account.”

Although there was no evidence that the friends and family received illegal payments, the audit found that the officer wrongly accessed the sensitive data – sometimes through co-workers she enlisted to help.

And from as early as July 2012, auditors found, the same employee misused state equipment and time to compose and print letters between two pages and 26 pages long, up to four times a day. A review of five months of her computer activity also showed she sent “from 30 to 97 personal emails on a daily basis,” according to the audit.

EDD sent the employee a dismissal notice by mail at the end of last year. But before the termination became official, she resigned. The department placed a note about the dismissal notice and resignation in her file.

Auditors also found that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the prison system’s medical branch, Correctional Health Care, gave three salaried chief psychologists a total $96,000 in extra pay and leave credits for returning to work after their shifts ended.

In one instance, a high-ranking official said the policy was put in place to alleviate hardships. In the other two cases, officials said they had been advised by their labor relations staff that the sweetener complied with the state’s labor agreement.

Even after finding out that the policy was incorrect, the officials continued the practice, according to the audit.

In a response, department officials told auditors that they would conduct a statewide review to determine whether other salaried staff wrongly received pay for on-call or work after their regular shifts. They also committed to seeking repayment from the two psychologists still working for the state and would reduce their leave balances.

The third psychologist retired and cashed out $22,766 in leave credits to which he was not entitled, according to auditors. Department officials told investigators it would work with CalPERS to recoup the funds.