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Baltimore Inspector General report: Trash bureau plagued by questionable OT, ‘some people gaming the system’

The Baltimore bureau responsible for trash collection is plagued by high overtime spending and doesn’t have controls to catch questionable expenses, according to a report by the city Office of the Inspector General. In this May 16, 2019, photo, agents from the office carry boxes of Department of Public Works documents into City Hall.
The Baltimore bureau responsible for trash collection is plagued by high overtime spending and doesn’t have controls to catch questionable expenses, according to a report by the city Office of the Inspector General. In this May 16, 2019, photo, agents from the office carry boxes of Department of Public Works documents into City Hall. (Doug Donovan / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore agency responsible for trash collection is plagued by high overtime spending and doesn’t have controls in place to catch questionable expenses, according to a nearly 30-page report released Tuesday by the city Office of the Inspector General.

The Department of Public Works’ Bureau of Solid Waste spent $1.1 million more than its overtime budget of roughly $406,800, the report found, as it dealt with dozens of vacancies and pulled crews onto extra shifts.

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The inspector general’s investigation found some “questionable justifications for overtime, wasteful overtime practices and discrepancies in the actual overtime worked by an employee and the number of compensated hours.”

Inspector General Isabel Cumming said she believes her findings will help the bureau develop tools to fix the system.

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“Overtime is always a big issue in the city because it represents a tremendous amount of where the money goes,” she said. “If people work overtime and are entitled to it, that’s fine. We just want people to be paid for what they do and not game the system in any way.”

On one occasion, the report states, four hours of overtime was paid to a collections crew for a route that took 14 hours, even though the GPS showed the truck was out on the streets for less than 10 hours.

Baltimore OIG report

This report builds on what Cumming and her office found in a report released in July that outlined how trash collectors have been paid thousands of dollars in unnecessary overtime because they are allowed to end their 10-hour shifts or begin collecting overtime after finishing one route, “regardless of how quickly the route was completed."

The latest report states that there aren’t systems in place to root out problems related to overtime spending. Crews sometimes submit overtime slips without noting justifications for the expense, calling into question “the accuracy of attendance data, the lack of internal controls to monitor work attendance and the accountability of supervisors for their subordinates,” the report said.

Crews also use paper sign-in and sign-out sheets to track their hours, rather than an electronic fingerprint system used by other departments. One manager told investigators they’re sure some people sign their “buddies in and out."

“One supervisor contended that they have no choice but to trust the crews in reference to the hours they work because they do not have time to check behind them,” the report states.

Asked by the inspector general’s office if there is overtime abuse at Solid Waste, a manager said: “Holistically, I don’t think there is overtime abuse, just some people gaming the system.”

In a written response to the report, DPW Deputy Director Matthew W. Garbark emphasized the agency has a difficult time recruiting and retaining workers to do such labor-intensive jobs. Still, he wrote that he agrees that “relying heavily on overtime is a problem.”

Since July, Garbark wrote, officials have been auditing random time sheets to ensure all required slips are attached with the appropriate signatures and justifications. The bureau is working to establish protocols that allow collection crews to use fingerprint scanners rather than paper sign-in sheets. Officials also plan to develop a standard procedure for how overtime is approved.

“We recognize there have been management issues and that employees have not risen to the standards expected of them,” he wrote in a response to the audit. “We are swiftly addressing these issues and creating sustainable solutions to prevent future negligence.”

Cumming said the people who work in the Solid Waste bureau do some of the hardest work in the city.

“Management must provide a more responsive environment for all employees to succeed in this work," she said.

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