08/27/2015 by Ed Coghlan
California auditor issues report on “improper activities” revealed by whistleblowers
California State Assembly chamber (Photo Credit: Antti T. Nissinen/Flickr)
“For democracies to work, elected leaders need to be responsive and representative, and voters must be able to hold elected officials accountable for results. Democratic integrity requires an electoral process that empowers voters and gives candidates and incumbents the incentives to listen and lead. It requires transparency throughout the government so voters have an accurate understanding of public decisions and the results of public programs.”
Those words are from the California Forward website and help instruct our interest and work in public accountability.
It explains why we found a report on the California Whistleblower Protection Act from the California State Auditor released on Thursday so interesting. The law empowers the auditor to investigate complaints that state agencies and employees have engaged in improper governmental activity. (Here’s a link to the summary of the report)
“Whistleblower protection laws have been a surefire way to root out waste, abuse, and fraud within vast government agencies,” said Phillip Ung, public affairs director for California Forward. “The Auditor’s report shows taxpayer money is saved, fraud and abuse are exposed, and that public servants who report it are not punished for doing the right thing on behalf of voters.”
The Auditor’s office analyzed nearly 3,000 cases from July 2014 through June 2015. They determined that 2,100 of those lacked sufficient information for investigation. For another nearly 700 cases, the staff conducted work—such as analyzing available evidence and contacting witnesses—to assess the allegations.
In addition, the staff requested that state departments gather information for 47 cases to assist in assessing the validity of the allegations. Ultimately the auditor’s staff investigated 44 cases with assistance from other state agencies and independently investigated 42 cases.
“One of the benefits to reporting those allegations we substantiate is that it serves as deterrence to others,” said Margarita Fernandez, public affairs chief for the Auditor’s office. “We receive many calls every year from state employees or the public. When we substantiate an allegation, we report it as we do in this report.”
The report details 10 substantiated allegations involving several governmental departments. The investigations found failure to seek competitive bids, failure to increase rental rates, waste of state funds, failure to properly dispose of surplus state property, an improper gift of public funds, and neglect of supervisory duties.
Among the results was a finding that the California Correctional Health Care Services wasted $3.2 million in state funds and improperly paid $1.6 million in advance payments when it procured goods and services to upgrade the electrical infrastructure within state prisons beginning in 2011. The problem occurred, according to the Auditor’s office, because a master agreement was improperly used.
In another instance, the state lost nearly $900,000 in rental revenue from July 2012 through September 2014 when the Department of Transportation did not increase rental rates to reflect the fair market value of state land rented by wireless communications companies.
On a related matter, CA Fwd has long supported expanding whistleblower protection to legislative employees, the last group of public employees to be given this protection. A bill allowing that--AB 289 died on Thursday.
"The bill received unanimous, bi-partisan support in every committee before it was unceremoniously killed, without a single vote cast, by the same committee that killed it the year before,” said Ung. “I sincerely hope the Legislature still believes that whistleblowers are important to government accountability.”