MTA Disbands Unit Following Audit;
Findings Referred to MTA Inspector General
Metro-North Railroad employees that were supposed to monitor train conditions and crew performance were not on the job when they were scheduled to work and performed poorly when they were, according to an audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Auditors and investigators also found that a relative of a manager was hired at an inflated salary over other more qualified employees, a possible violation of the New York State Public Officers Law.
"The public got taken for a ride," DiNapoli said. "When workers in this unit did bother to show up for their jobs, they did shoddy work or personal tasks when they should have been ensuring that trains were operating safely and smoothly. The MTA needs to do more to tighten up accountability. I am pleased that this audit brought an end to this situation."
The audit covered the period January 1, 2009 through June 20, 2011 and examined whether employees in Metro North's On-Board Services Unit fulfilled their duties and performed their assigned tasks. As of July 2011, the unit consisted of a supervisor and five employees who earned a total annual compensation of $832,676.
Auditors and investigators examined 300 rides that were expected to be taken and documented, of which 29 percent (89 rides) had no logs to support that any work was done. In 14 percent of all rides, staffers were not on the job, though they were scheduled to work and were paid for those hours. None of the 211 logs that did exist reported any significant performance or safety issue, raising serious questions about the quality of oversight provided by the unit.
Staff was supposed to take six train trips daily to work an eight-hour day, but auditors found that staff averaged only four train trips daily. Auditors and investigators estimate that four unit staff members were paid in excess of $170,000 annually for work that might not have been performed.
Supervision was also almost non-existent, with no log of time and attendance records, no observation of staffers on trains and no written schedule of trains to be monitored. Auditors and investigators also found that staffers surfed the internet during work hours, including spending 6.5 hours on firearm sites and Google and 5 hours on various commercial sites such as Chuck E. Cheese. Reviews of cell phone usage found little communication between staff members and their supervisor but did find out-of-state calls and calls home.
Auditors and investigators learned that an assistant vice president in charge of the unit had referred a relative to work under her supervision. The person was hired despite receiving a lower rating than two other applicants for this position and was paid $84,700 despite a posted starting salary of $57,226. This employee and the assistant vice president had their paychecks deposited into the same bank account.
Counsel for Metro-North investigated this issue and gave three separate reprimands to the assistant vice president. As a result, operating procedures were changed regarding the hiring of relatives. However, the Comptroller's Office has referred the matter to the Office of the MTA Inspector General (OIG) for further investigation.
Auditors recommended that:
- MTA investigate time and attendance of the unit supervisor and staff, take disciplinary action and take steps to recover any funds paid for time not worked or charged to accruals and ensure that any salary overpayment is taken into account for future pension payments;
- Evaluate the necessity of staffing for the unit, considering its demonstrated productivity and effectiveness to date;
- Re-examine whether the assistant vice president's relative should be transferred to a different work unit.
In response to the audit, the MTA disbanded the on-board service managers unit and folded personnel into existing departments. The authority also asked the OIG to review the records of the unit to determine what additional actions should be taken. The MTA has agreed to cooperate fully with the OIG regarding the allegations of inappropriate hiring. The MTA's full response is included in the audit.
To read the full report, click here.
This report is the second in a series stemming from a forensic audit of overtime practices at the MTA announced in 2010 by DiNapoli. A forensic audit examines practices or organizations in which there is a reasonable risk of fraud or illegality. Since 2007, DiNapoli's office has completed 18 audits of MTA practices and organizational structure. In the coming months, the Comptroller will release further findings from the OSC's continuing forensic audit of overtime practices.
DiNapoli encourages the public to help fight against fraud and abuse. New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud, corruption and abuse of taxpayer money by: calling the toll-free fraud hotline at 1-888-672-4555; filing a complaint online at email@example.com; or mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller Investigations Unit, 110 State Street, 14th floor, Albany, NY 12236.