A great big pig and a whole lotta lipstick

Hey look: an outside auditing firm has released its report on Department of Public Safety paysheet/overtime policies. The audit was ordered after the Jim Deeghan scandal.

The audit has some good news, and some really bad news.

Guess which news DPS Commissioner Keith Flynn chose to emphasize? WCAX:

“There is not widespread fraud or abuse within the Department of Public Safety,” Vt. Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said.

…Flynn said he is pleased the independent audit showed a low risk for possible time sheet fraud, abuse and waste by a majority of the department employees.

… “I feel confident that we’ve done all we can at this point,” Flynn said.

… “Just the fact that someone was identified as having a risk is not indicative that there was some type of fraud,” Flynn said.

The audit covered timesheet and pay records for all DPS personnel from January 2010 to September 2012. It found only one case of gross abuse — Deeghan. Good news, eh?

Well, not so much. If the abuse was isolated, it’s no thanks to DPS’ own policies, which were harshly criticized by auditors. As I’ve said before, if this kind of lax administration happened in Human Services, there’d be hell to pay. But the DPS is relatively insulated from political blowback, so they’re going to get away with locking the barn after a horse revealed exactly how many doors were open. A few samples:  

— Employees’ ability to “self-activate” to on-duty status is “inherently vulnerable to abuse.”

— Third-party contracts, such as the infamous Jericho contract massively abused by Deeghan, are also “inherently vulnerable.”

— Anecdotal evidence of supervisors giving “rubber stamp approval of time reports and perform[ing] inadequate review.” Apparently this involved “electronic signatures,” not actual ones.  

– “Absence of formal chain of custody process.”

— “DPS current payroll system data validation checks are largely undocumented.”

— Top commanders “perform high-level review of overtime with a focus on budget, rather than detecting fraud.”

— DPS staffers are unconcerned “that overtime abuse will be detected.”

All this, in a department that will always have an unusual amount of overtime because of the unpredictable nature of its duties. This department, above all others, ought to have had rigorous checks on overtime claims.

A couple other notes. Although the audit found that only Deeghan had committed large-scale fraud, it did find that 21 others had some warning signs of possible fraud. And, fascinatingly:

Auditors found that overtime dropped by at least 20 percent for 88 employees in the weeks that followed Shumlin’s announcement [of the Deeghan case], compared with the weeks before he ordered the audit.

Were we feeling a little guilty, hmm?

Is this, perhaps, a sign that a lot of low-level fraud was going on? Especially since, auditors say, staffers weren’t worried about getting caught?

To his credit, Flynn has already instituted many of the measures called for by the auditors, so the system is a lot more robust now than it was last summer.

But still, to me, the big unanswered question is: How did the DPS’ procedures get so damn sloppy in the first place?

I have a feeling that Flynn’s blithe assurances will be enough to mollify uncomfortable politicians, and those responsible for this excessively lax management will go unpunished.  

One thought on “A great big pig and a whole lotta lipstick

  1. Burlington Free Press:

    • The top 100 pensions as of June 30, 2010, ranged from $97,928 to $56,820.

    • Out of the top 100 pensioners, 78 are retired members of the Vermont State Police, while 18 go to the judiciary. Two retired municipal school superintendents make the top 100 list, along with one longtime education professor at Johnson State College and one environmental conservation commissioner.

    Judges get their full salary in retirement.  State Employees get 50% maximum of their last few years.  Rates of pay for troopers are well below Judges.  Overtime abuse was rampant and considered a right reserved for those getting close to retirement.  

    Reread that Free Press article and notice some low ranking officers on the list.  Degan got greedy and ran the train off of the tracks but the issue is not fixed.  Abuse of the retirement system by working a lot of overtime in order to bump up your pension still happens.  I wonder who is paying for this?

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