The State Worker

Audit outlines lies, theft and mismanagement by California state workers

California State Auditor

To secure permission to telecommute, a state worker said he needed to care for an ailing parent. Instead, he secretly took a second full-time job for 10 months, according to a new report on government employee misdeeds.

The case of the moonlighting telecommuter is one of 10 cases detailed in state Auditor Elaine Howle’s “Investigations of Improper Activities by State Agencies and Employees,” the latest collection of whistleblower-inspired probes released this week. Other cases uncovered embezzlement at the water board, missing property at Camp Roberts and improper travel reimbursements at the agency that administers unemployment benefits.

In the moonlighting case, the Department of Industrial Relations paid the unnamed employee at least $12,200 for time when he was not available for his state duties, although “due to the manager’s lax supervision of the employee, (the department) was unable to determine how much work the employee actually performed,” Howle’s report stated.

The employee maintained the department’s information technology network and oversaw the work of four subordinates. In August 2010, he secretly accepted a full-time job with a San Francisco hospital, according to investigators. The position required he work on the premises during the day starting in September.

The same day the employee took the job, he asked for time off from Industrial Relations beginning in September so that he could care for his sick mother. It was a “lie,” according to auditors.

His manager “agreed that he could take three weeks to one month off, provided he remained available by telephone and email to respond to questions from his subordinates and address any problems with Industrial Relations’ information technology network,” according to the report.

The employee said nothing about the hospital job and did not follow department conflict-of-interest rules that require permission from a division chief to work a second position.

In September, while working for the hospital, the employee answered calls and emails to resolve problems at Industrial Relations. “(T)he manager was appreciative of the employee’s responsiveness. As a result, the manager required the employee to use only 56 hours of leave to cover his absence from work during this period,” the report says.

The manager also allowed the employee to “maintain a flexible telecommuting schedule” beyond September, investigators found, “so that he would have the flexibility he needed to care for his ailing mother,” with the caveat he would be available by telephone and email around the clock.

The employee told investigators that he worked between 32 hours and 35 hours per week for the state while working the secret job. If true, the employee’s total workload was “72 to 75 hours a week and (he) conducted all of his state work either before 8:30 a.m. or after 5 p.m. on weekdays, and during all hours on weekends,” auditors noted.

Management of the employee was so “lax,” the report stated, that the department couldn’t estimate how much time on average the employee spent performing state work.

In June 2011, Industrial Relations’ management discovered the employee’s secret job and told him to resume work in the department’s office, according to the report. The employee resigned and left state service instead.

In response to the audit, Industrial Relations said it put a memo in the employee’s personnel file that will surface should he attempt to rejoin the state. It gave the manager a “counseling memorandum,” and has put stronger telecommuting policies in place, the department stated.

Other misdeeds and mistakes highlighted in the report released Tuesday include:

▪ The Employment Development Department paid $20,700 in improper travel reimbursement between July 2007 and January 2010 to an employee who traveled from her home in Sacramento to her office in Southern California. However, because EDD incorrectly identified an employee’s headquarters as being in Sacramento, it made payments for meals and other expenses close to the employee’s work. The error continued after the employee was promoted in 2010, and and her supervisor signed off on another $6,100 in improper expenses from January 2010 through July 2012.

▪ A State Water Resources Control Board employee sent surplus office furniture to a recycler and pocketed $3,512 from the transaction. When confronted by auditors, the employee said she didn’t have time to turn in the money and took it home for safekeeping. She also thought the board’s office didn’t accept cash, she said, “so she planned to exchange the cash for a money order” before turning over the funds.

The employee transferred to another department before the investigators completed their review, but the report recommends the board turn the matter over to the local district attorney “where the embezzlement occurred for potential prosecution.”

▪ More than $33,000 of government property went missing at Camp Roberts in Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties due to poor inventory controls, the latest in a string of such failures documented since 2009.

Although the Military Department has made “considerable progress” in fixing its shortcomings, the report states, it still needs a bar-code system for all expendable inventory – such as screws, nails and air filters – and return materials it doesn’t need to headquarters.

In response, the department told Howle that it has returned to headquarters 120 of 150 pallets of property and intends to return the rest next year. It also is searching for an inventory bar-code system compatible with its IT network, “but feels confident that the internal control processes it adopted ... will provide for better accountability and management of state property,” the report states.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.