Report I2003-1 Summary - April 2003

Investigations of Improper Activities by State Employees:

August 2002 Through January 2003

HIGHLIGHTS

State employees engaged in improper activities, including the following:

  • Influenced a $345,000 state contract that was awarded to a prospective employer.
  • Improperly received $17,529 in travel reimbursements.
  • Treated employees inappropriately and improperly claimed 479 hours of leave.
  • Awarded contracts totaling more than $75,000 to businesses owned by relatives.
  • Used state computers to access adult chat rooms during work hours and provided false information on an employment application.
  • Divulged examination questions to another testing candidate.
  • Used state resources to make personal long-distance calls, send personal e-mails, and ship packages to a friend.
  • Used a state-owned cellular phone to make $327 in personal calls.

State departments engaged in the following improper activities:

  • Allowed a supervisor to exercise the powers of a peace officer when he did not meet the necessary requirements to do so.
  • Illegally appointed two individuals to psychologist positions.
  • Failed to monitor telecommuting employees.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

The Bureau of State Audits (bureau), in accordance with the California Whistleblower Protection Act (act) contained in the California Government Code, beginning with Section 8547, receives and investigates complaints of improper governmental activities. The act defines "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. 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 (TDD). If the bureau finds reasonable evidence of improper governmental activity, it confidentially reports the details to the head of the employing agency or the appropriate appointing authority. The 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 transmitting the confidential investigative report and monthly thereafter until the corrective action concludes. This report details the results of the 12 investigations completed by the bureau and other state agencies on our behalf between August 1, 2002, and January 31, 2003, that substantiated complaints. Following are examples of the substantiated improper activities and actions the agencies have taken to date.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES AGENCY DATA CENTER

A manager influenced a $345,600 contract between the Health and Human Services Agency Data Center (data center) and a private company with whom he was negotiating future employment while he was still employed at the data center. Further, as the individual performing the services under this contract, the manager derived a material benefit from the contract. The cost to the State for the manager's services as a consultant was more than three times the previous cost of his state salary and benefits, despite the fact that his job duties did not significantly change.

DEPARTMENT OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS

An official improperly received reimbursement for relocation, commuting expenses, lodging, and meals. The Department of Industrial Relations determined that the official improperly received reimbursement of $5,726 for lodging and relocation expenses over a 20-month period, but we found that an additional $11,803 of the official's travel expenses were improper, bringing the total improper travel costs to $17,529.

DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

A manager engaged in contracting improprieties involving a business owner who also worked part-time for the Department of Fish and Game (department). The employee's companies billed $62,000 in invoices, which regional staff split into smaller purchase orders in order to circumvent bidding requirements. The manager also sought payment for another $60,000 that one of the companies had invoiced, despite not knowing whether a contract was in place or whether the company had provided the services listed on the invoice. The company's owner violated conflict-of-interest and incompatible-activity laws when he submitted an invoice for payment during the same time he worked as a department employee. The manager also subjected subordinates to inappropriate treatment, conduct that the department concluded was inexcusable and a discredit to the State. The manager further claimed and received 479 hours of annual and sick leave to which he was not entitled.

DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH, ATASCADERO STATE HOSPITAL

The Atascadero State Hospital (hospital) awarded 21 projects totaling more than $75,000 to three businesses owned by relatives of an employee, and the hospital employees responsible for sending the jobs out to bid failed to follow the hospital's bidding procedures. One employee, who initiated work requests for 14 of the 21 projects in question, received more than $5,600 in payments from one of these companies, violating conflict-of-interest laws. We also determined that two of the employee's relatives violated state contracting law because they submitted bids and were awarded projects during the same period the hospital employed them as seasonal employees. Furthermore, the hospital violated department nepotism policies by allowing an employee to supervise family members.

DEPARTMENT OF DEVELOPMENTAL SERVICES, SONOMA DEVELOPMENTAL CENTER

The Sonoma Developmental Center (center), under the Department of Developmental Services, allowed a supervisor to exercise a peace officer's powers even though he did not meet the requirements to do so. Specifically, when the center hired the supervisor as a peace officer in 1995, it failed to ensure that he met the training requirements for the position. When the center learned of the problem in January 2000, it informed the supervisor that he was not to use his peace-officer powers until he completed the required training, which he did in February 2000.

DEPARTMENT OF DEVELOPMENTAL SERVICES, PORTERVILLE

The Porterville Developmental Center (center), under the Department of Developmental Services (department), illegally appointed two individuals to psychologist positions. The department investigated and found that the two employees did not have the required qualifications to be appointed as psychologists. In addition, the investigation showed that the center failed to follow its own hiring procedures. The employees subsequently transferred to psychology-associate positions.

SAN JOSE STATE UNIVERSITY

An employee of San Jose State University (university), used state computers to access adult chat rooms during work hours. The employee also provided false information on her employment application to the university. The employee's supervisor instructed her to stop spending work time in computer chat rooms. The employee continued to chat online. The university investigated the allegations against the employee. Based on the evidence that staff gathered confirming the allegations, the university decided to terminate the employee. However, the employee resigned when presented with the evidence.

DEPARTMENT OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS

An employee participating in a promotional examination compromised the security of the exam. Specifically, the employee sent an e-mail message divulging the examination questions to another testing candidate. A form the employee signed prior to her exam expressly prohibited discussing and giving information about the examining panel's questions to another competitor. In addition, because the employee's responsibilities within the Department of Industrial Relations included planning, developing, and administering civil service examinations, as well as ensuring the security and confidentiality of exam questions, the employee was well aware of the seriousness of her breach of security. These factors resulted in the termination of this employee.

DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION

An employee of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) used state equipment to make long-distance calls and to send personal e-mails during work hours. In addition, the employee used a state-paid shipping account to send packages to a friend. We do not know how much his improper use of state time cost the State. However, CDF determined that the employee's long-distance phone calls cost $237 and his shipping charges $219. CDF suspended the employee for 31 days without pay and required him to pay restitution of $456.

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, NORTHRIDGE

California State University, Northridge, failed to monitor its telecommuting employees adequately. Although university policy requires supervisors to meet with their telecommuting employees to provide job assignments and review completed work, one employee failed to report to campus for more than one year.

DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH

An administrator improperly used his state-owned cellular phone to make $327 in personal phone calls over a 17-month period. The Department of Mental Health required the administrator to repay the State for the cost of the personal calls and instructed him not to make personal calls on his state-issued cellular phone.

DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION

An employee resided on state property in her motor home and used state utilities without paying a rental fee, violating state and Department of Forestry and Fire Protection policy.


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